The last day of vacation, the day before we leave our cabin on the lake, is one of the hardest days.
The afternoon is a frenzy of packing and taking the boat out of the water and my MIL and FIL getting completely packed so my MIL can slip away at 6am, before the triathlon starts. She hates goodbyes and endings… and she just wants to be in her own house.
We have spent the day at an amusement park this year – Lucky and my nephew are just tall enough to ride alone, and the two of them want to ride everything there. We get back just before dinner, and Charlie runs off to help my FIL get the boat out of the water.
My MIL comes by to vent. I never should have said things were going really well between us. He’s been snippy with me all day and I’m about ready to smack him.
I soothe her by saying, The last day of vacation is hard.
Later, after the pizza and the packing up of the cabin and the gathering of all the things we’ve dropped all over during the course of the week, Charlie and I are sitting on the couch, sipping wine and listening to the waves lap at the shore through the open windows of the cabin.
It’s just that I look forward to this all year, I tell him. And now have nothing to hold on to: next year’s trip is SO far away.
So we dream about taking another trip, coming here for a long weekend this fall, knowing we are booked up for weekends through September. And anyway, it wouldn’t be the same, just the three of us, in the cooler weather, where we can’t spend the day playing in the water and sitting on inner tubes and Lucky and his cousins can’t roam between four cabins like the flock of ducks that comes by every day.
We’ll wait until next year.
And it’s so far away.
This year, Charlie’s cousin’s boat is still in the water, and Charlie decides to do one last early morning fishing trip, since he’s caught only one fish all week. We are mostly packed, and when my phone wakes me up at 6:30, the pink tinged light in the window tells me it’s going to be another glorious day.
I make coffee, open my journal, and write a bit. But then a voice inside me tells me, Go outside, and I listen.
The lake is as still as glass, the orange and pink glow of the sun reflecting off the water. I breathe in; the air is cool and clear, with a hint of fall. I hear only the hum of crickets, and I’m reminded of the passage from Charlotte’s Web:
The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.”
I should feel sad; vacation’s over, and summer’s nearly over.
But inside me, I feel something else. Quiet. It’s a solid calm that’s centered deep inside; I almost feel like I can touch it in the center of my chest.
The anxiety, my closest companion all summer – is it gone? I take a cautious moment and look for it. It seems to have evaporated, or left for a little while. All I feel is quiet and calm and easy breath, even when my mind starts casting about, looking for the worry. What about the packing? You really should take a shower, Serenity, Lucky will be up soon, and make sure you get him some breakfast and you should text your dogsitter and make sure that Happy gets home okay.
The thoughts buzz around me, swirling in the morning air.
All summer, whenever my mind starts up like this, I’ve had a physical reaction to the worries. A tightening of my chest. A feeling my heart will beat out of my chest.
I can feel is that solid quiet.
I look forward to this all year.
Ah, the irony of writing a post where I say I’ve been writing every day since I started vacation, and I have a goal to write every day… and then not being able to write at all one day.
I did not write anything yesterday but review notes for the person that is helping me test controls. The woman I work for wants me to step up and manage this new person, which is fine, but it also really kind of sucks. I was envisioning a situation where I could do my own work and the other person does hers, end of story. So far from feeling as if I am extracting myself from my current work situation, I feel like I am getting more and more entrenched.
I keep reminding myself that nothing is forever, and really, it takes only a conversation to alert her that I cannot work this project next year.
* * * *
Anyway, so here I am, sitting in my kitchen, stealing time to write while I wait for the babysitter to come so I can work for the day.
Mel had a great post yesterday.
Show up and write.
So here I am.
I have to admit I’ve had a hard time writing in my space because I feel like there are SO many blogs out there, with so many people who have much better things to say that I do. This idea wars with my other idea that there IS space for me in this community, the infertile who made it to the other side but remains one of the few that is working to accept that the family she was given is her complete family.
It’s hard sometimes for me to read other blogs, too. Where are the people like me?
I see all these posts with people who are done with family building, and the general theme is that they feel like their family is complete. I usually see those posts where they see their older child playing with the new baby, or they post a picture where the kids are interacting.
Those posts are written with such warmth and thankfulness and happiness that it used to make me ache with longing.
And here’s where I confess: I would get angry at a lot of those posts. I was jealous and bitter.
Of course it’s easy to feel like your family is complete when you get what you want, I’d think.
I know, I’m awful. I used to hate those feelings.
But for so long, I felt like I was MISSING something. There was a piece missing, a part missing. The baby I didn’t get to have. And though I had the very same thankfulness whenever I looked at Lucky – because, really, how LUCKY we got with him, it’s nothing short of amazing – it never lasted.
I wanted more.
I wanted my baby, the one I lost. The one that made me feel sick and who had a beating heart. I wanted her, the one who didn’t make it.
I wanted my arms and heart and belly to be full again.
I wanted to be able to post on my blog, looking at Lucky and our new baby, how complete I felt.
And I have still have days where I long for that baby, still feel that expansion and contraction of pain in my heart and belly whenever I see an infant; a visceral want that comes from a deep, deep place inside me whenever I snuggle with my nephew, or hold a baby. And it’s still hard for me to see pictures of siblings, because my heart hurts when I realize that Lucky will never know what it’s like to have a brother or a sister.
I think that’s the hardest part for me to accept; that Charlie and I have siblings who are such a big part of our lives, and Lucky will never get to experience that kind of love.
Whenever I tell people, or say out loud, there will never be another baby, I now have this deep, unshakeable sense of peace. I sometimes look at Charlie and Lucky and Happy, and I feel that same warmth and thankfulness and happiness that I see in those Complete Family blog posts.
Our family IS complete. There isn’t anything missing, no piece we need to find and fill into our family. The four of us (and yes, I count the dog, who is quite decidedly NOT the same as having another child… but oh so wonderful a companion.) make a unit that’s distinctly ours.
Acceptance. I haz it.
This acceptance is not at all what I thought it would be.
Over the years of fighting infertility to bring home the family we had dreamed of, I saw acceptance as a mirage, an oasis in the far distance. It was so hard for me to say the words, We may never have any more children.
Even with the “may” in there, it was hard to think about.
Even as I was giving away clothing and baby gear, I never really thought I’d ever look in the mirror and admit that we’d never have another baby in our house.
Even as we walked away from treatments, I had the idea, maybe. Maybe we’ll get lucky again, this time with a surprise pregnancy. Or maybe we’ll adopt. Maybe we’ll change our minds someday and go back to treatments.
I needed that maybe. I needed the hope that our walking away wasn’t final, that we were leaving the door open a crack just in case we changed our minds. I needed to sit with the decision, the hope, the fear, the fail, the bigness of the decision to stop trying. I needed time and distance from the cycle of hope and fear.
I don’t need the maybe anymore.
Our family is complete; we will never have any more children. And yes, it hurts to say that.
But it also feels right to say it, too.
It’s really hard sometimes to write when you have all this STUFF swirling around in your head and heart.
But it’s been like this for a while now, and I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon, so I really want to try to make sense of things.
So that’s your fair warning: this post will likely be disjointed and maybe won’t have a point. And it might be boring or ridiculous. But I’m going to write it down, because I really, really, want to start writing more.
And the only way to write more is to write more, right?
* * * *
I’ve been working with my current therapist now for three years. Three years of weekly appointments, and I’m only JUST feeling like we’re getting below the surface anxiety into what makes me tick.
One of the things I’ve been noticing lately is that I am very closed off in my marriage. I spend time DOING things for Charlie to show him I love him. Whenever the gas in his car is low, I fill it. I create our weekly dinner menu with his preferences in mind. I will run at 4 in the morning or 10 at night in order to get more family time in on a given day. I take care of as much of the family stuff as I can – vet and doctor appointments for Lucky, school stuff, making lunches, bus dropoff/pickup – so that Charlie has one less thing to stress about.
But when it comes to showing my husband love and affection, I am a freaking Scrooge. I hide behind stress and anxiety, I keep myself busy so I don’t have to take time out to hug.
I’ve JUST noticed it, quite honestly: the way I am clipped and stressed whenever he arrives home from work, or how I find things to get annoyed over, like lights left on, when I arrive home when they are home. How I bury myself in my task list, the computer, my phone, laundry. It’s like I find excuses and justification to stay closed off, ways to avoid connecting with him.
I think it’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that Charlie, with his high blood pressure and ridiculous stress levels, is a heart attack waiting to happen. What happens if I really allow myself to love him, to rely on him, and he dies suddenly on me? How will I survive?
Or maybe I’m afraid of relying on him too much, where my need becomes another stressor for him, and all of a sudden he realizes he can’t deal with the energy suck of his wife anymore.
Or maybe I’m worried that he’ll disappoint me. What if I rely on him and he can’t be there?
Or maybe it’s none of these things. I don’t honestly know why I’m so scared, why I am so stingy with showing love and affection.
What I know is that it needs to change.
* * * *
I listen to audiobooks on my long ass commute into Boston; I download them to my phone from the library. It’s a great way to pass the time stuck in traffic, provided the book is a good one.
The one I’m listening to now? It’s a good one. It’s this one – a true story about the chaplain of the Maine Warden Service. Listening to her story, told from her viewpoint, I can only marvel at her openness and love. And her faith, or non-faith.
How is it, after losing her husband in an accident, and working search-and-rescues and seeing all facets of death, she can be so enthusiastic, open, and loving?
And if she can do it, can I as well?
* * * *
Written in Athena for the month of August is this: Cultivate Love.
I’m starting simply.
Next week we are heading to my happy place – the cabin on the lake. I’m going to disconnect from the internet. No Facebook, no email, no running board, no Myfitnesspal. I’m bringing paper plates and bowls, and bottles of wine and board games and cribbage and royalty. I’m going work on cultivating a connection between us and with the three of us as a family. And when I find myself getting stressed or anxious, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and hug someone.
And when we get back, I’m going to kiss my husband goodbye and hello every day. I’m going to take a moment every day, when he walks through the door, to greet him and welcome him home.
When Lucky tells me he’s cold and wants to sit on my lap, or wants me to stop what I’m doing to watch him do something, or he wants me to sit with him and watch a TV show, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and be with him, in the moment.
THIS is my family, right here, right now. And I love them so much and am so grateful I have Charlie and Lucky and Happy in my life.
And I need to learn how to open up more.
I didn’t even notice.
On Sunday morning, I was lined up with a friend to run a half marathon in Boston.
And it hit me when the bagpipes began to play Amazing Grace.
What’s today’s date? I asked my friend. Is it the 24th?
No, she responded, perplexed that I’d ask in the middle of a moment of silence. It’s May 25.
More than 20 years had passed since my cousin died.
And I didn’t even notice the day.
* * * * *
I haven’t had much contact with my cousins, not really, since my aunt passed away. I see what’s going on in social media, of course.
One of my cousins is recently divorced and dating a woman he met in Brazil – for work, maybe? I don’t know, only that they post gushy love notes on Basefook in Portuguese, and he seems to travel there a lot.
My other cousin, hugely overweight the last time I saw him, is barely recognizable in his pictures; he’s lost so much weight, he looks like a different guy.
My uncle seems to be happy with his new wife; there are lots of pictures of the two of them with their dog on beaches in North Carolina. The Caribbean. In Europe.
It’s kind of funny: I had no idea he loved to travel. He and my aunt went to the Cape every year, and Disney with the grandkids… but that was it.
Have they all changed? Or did I just not KNOW them before?
* * * * *
About a month ago, my sister in law asked me how old my cousin was when she died. I told her that Amy was sixteen; I vividly remember her sweet sixteen birthday party, when I was a senior in high school. I was into Jimi Hendrix and classic rock and especially Pink Floyd. I wore this awesome tye dyed long purple dress and black converse to her party, my long hair pulled back into a ponytail. I remember feeling so much older at that party; here I was on the cusp of college, and they were stuck in high school.
She died a year later, when I was home from college for the summer.
No, I said. She was seventeen when she died.
My sister in law then told me that she had seen someone, a psychic, in the hopes of getting in touch with some of her and Charlie’s relatives. And the night before she went to see this woman, she had thought of my cousin in passing – only because, she told me later, she didn’t have any sort of unfinished business with anyone in her family like she thought maybe I did.
And that day, the psychic told her that there was someone in the room, not a relative of hers, but someone who wanted to talk to her. A young energy, the number 17 stuck in her head. And whenever the psychic focused on the energy, she felt this massive pressure in her temple, a squeezing feeling in her head. And the other people in the room were pushing her forward – they were trying to help her be heard.
My cousin shot herself in the temple when she was 17. And it is SO what she would have done – hoodwinked a number of strangers to help her hijack someone she didn’t even know’s psychic reading.
I thought about going to see this woman, but I’m not sure how I feel about the whole psychic thing: because, you see, a psychic once told me I’d have two boys – twins that wouldn’t come together.
And I’m not sure I know what to think, this idea that my cousin is hanging around, hijacking people’s psychic readings to talk about herself. Why would she do that?
* * * * *
When Charlie and I were planning our wedding, I dreamed of Amy a lot. Always in those dreams, she’d show up and I’d feel this crushing sadness come over me. I’d always end up saying something like, I wish you could be in my wedding. But you are dead.
Recently I started dreaming of her again. Except this time, in my dreams, she’s NOT dead. Her absence over the past number of years is explained away as “she went away for a while.” And I’m always thrilled to see her alive and happy and in it, we’re a family again. The kind of family that has reunions and sees each other every year on the Cape.
* * * * *
The thing is, I don’t know what kind of relationship Amy and I would have if she were still alive.
We were the kind of cousins that might have had a huge blowout over something ridiculous – too close, in that best friends/worst enemies kind of way. I sometimes imagine she would have stayed in Jersey and turned into one of those girls I loathe from my early days: close-minded, full of drama, always finding something wrong with her situation in life. And of course, she’d be uber-fertile, one of those women who keeps telling me I should just relax and it’ll happen, and really, did I want the chaos of as many kids as she had? I mean look at how crazy her kids make her – I’m lucky I don’t have to deal with that.
What I know: the passing of the women on my mother’s side of the family has affected me on a profound level. It’s like the female energy from that side of the family grounded me and made me feel whole. As time goes on, I miss my aunt more and more.
And I feel unraveled and untethered somehow by the fracture in the family.
* * * * *
Twenty years ago, my cousin Amy committed suicide. Her death affected me profoundly: everything I am today is a result of her death.
I still wish I could have done more to help take her pain away.
I am still angry that she died three days before I had a chance to hug her and tell her that life got so much better once you escaped our stupid close-minded blue-collar small town.
I will always regret she never tasted the happiness and freedom I felt that first year of college.
I miss her.
And I think I always will.
Mel had a post a few weeks ago about her new bullet journal, how she spends time putting her thoughts on post-it notes and has no real organization of those thoughts. She posted a couple of days ago; her little red notebook Charlotte has changed her life.
When I had my lightbulb moment, I realized I needed a good place to brainstorm and write down ideas for going out on my own. So the very day, I went to Staples and picked up my very own bullet journal.
Mine isn’t red, it’s black. And I named her Athena.
I initially set Athena up similar to Charlotte. I don’t need another calendar – all of our stuff is in google AND on a large dry erase 12 month calendar in our mudroom. So for the calendar page, I merely write down a few words about that day; the things that stick out for me. On the opposite page, I have a list of tasks that are more future-oriented; most of them relate to going into business for myself; networking ideas and people I should talk with, as well as a list of bills in the future I need to remember (like my life insurance policy, CPA renewal, camp fees, etc). The third page is a miscellaneous page, where I record blog post ideas or menu ideas or running training ideas or dog training ideas.
And initially, for the fourth page, I tried doing a “May Daily List” which would be a daily list of tasks. But it didn’t really work for me; I already have task lists for work and for home in places that are easy to access. I didn’t really need one place for both; my process works for my life project management.
So I deviated.
* * *
Last week my friend D mentioned to me that she had heard of an app called Happier. And she didn’t know much about it, but it was a place where you could record your happy moments during the course of the day.
And it seemed to me a GREAT idea. Because the longer I see my therapist, the more I start to see just how many times I actually sabotage my own happiness. I will take a moment – maybe even a few hours – where I feel amazing and good and happy… and turn it into something that’s negative.
Like my Mother’s Day marathon. And it was hot, and my strategy of slowing down in the first half didn’t actually turn into a faster back half of the marathon. And I ended up walking more than I would have liked to. In the moment, though, it was okay, and good. My family was there – they held me up in those miles; I got to see them cheer for me SO many times – and I had energy left for the last half mile, where I started running and didn’t stop – even sprinted to the finish.
You guys, I felt SO GOOD that afternoon. I did what I wanted to, and I didn’t care about the time.
But the next day, when I looked at my splits, I started talking myself down. And by the end of the day, I had decided I was, in fact, no good at marathons. And I FELT shitty about the race I had run just the day before.
It’s ridiculous: I am sharing my headspace with this bitter, angry old lady who finds fault with EVERYTHING and demands that I don’t enjoy feeling good.
And so I have this idea that maybe writing my happiness down will diminish her power over me; somehow I feel like putting those moments into words cements them somehow. Makes them more real. And when they’re real, Agnes (my bitter old angry lady) cannot take them away.
So I’ve been recording my happy moments in my Happier app. And honestly, I love it: I love how you can take a picture of something and attach it to your happy moment. I love the moment of “Eureka!” when I realize I feel good and am in the midst of a happy moment. And I love how easy it is to put it into words.
* * *
And this is where Athena comes in.
It’s not really enough for me to have an app that houses all my happy moments. I need them in a place where I can see them all the time, remind myself when Agnes’s criticism is too big and loud for me to ignore.
So after the “May Miscellaneous” page, I added a “May Gratitude” page. And I am writing those moments that are bigger than just a simple recording in an app; the ones I want to repeat – my points of focus in a given month. I want to make those repeatable and big; large enough to turn the volume of Agnes down.
Athena is my Gratitude Journal.
And I am counting on her to help take the power away from Agnes and put my happiness back in my own hands.