Month: July 2018

On the Eve of my 32nd Birthday

Tonight I am the exact age that my mother was when she gave birth to me. Up until now, until this day, I thought that she was older when she had had me, as in more of a grownup.

At some point, as a teenager maybe, I asked her when she first felt like a grownup. She told me it wasn’t until she had kids. I birthed my children when I was 27 and 30. I grew up– became a mother– came to embody responsibility and wisdom and sacrifice and love in ways I didn’t understand prior to their arrival. But I didn’t feel like a grownup the way my mom has always been.

My mommy who, since I have known her, just knows how to be the grownup. Who always knows what to do. Who knows the right answers. Who, even in moments of insecurity or uncertainty, embodies those states of being as a grownup– they don’t seem to phase her. She is the most emotionally mature person I know.

There have been a remarkably few times I’ve seen a crack– two that I recall. A vague memory of her upset, throwing a bowl of spaghetti at dinner. My sister and I laughed. And when I was older, a story about being so frustrated trying to find her way somewhere that she turned around and drove hours home. The cognitive dissonance of those stories is jarring– They are so out of place in the image I have of my mom that I sometimes doubt if I remember them correctly.

I know that she probably isn’t as infallible as I see her. I can’t bring myself to delete the “probably” in that sentence– that’s how strong the picture of her is in my mind. I know, realistically, she probably felt just as much like she was flailing her way through early motherhood and everything else as I sometimes do, but even if she didn’t feel like a grownup, as a mother she always acted like the grownup. I aspire to be a mother like that.

I think part of me has held on, thinking my sense of really being a grownup, the way my mom is, would come today. That since I was younger when I had my kids, maybe I just had to wait for today, the day before my thirty-second birthday. Alas, I awoke with the usual patterns of insecurity and impatience still in place.

29 years ago

Still, I think there’s something sacred about today, and it isn’t about it being the day before my birthday. There are milestones we don’t acknowledge routinely in our culture. The day you are the exact same age your parent was when you were born is one of them. Being exactly half the age of your parent. Before today, I was less than half the age of my mother. She had lived more than half of her life before knowing me. Tomorrow, and after, that will be less.

I’m listening to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” as I type this and it feels incredibly apt– a way to mark this rite of passage. If it weren’t almost midnight I would light a candle.

When I wrote about my father, my mom told me she wished she could know what I would write about her– that she wished she could read it. Here’s what I’d tell her, simply, if this post doesn’t make it clear:

Today, literally, and every other day in every other way:

I measure my life by yours.


I Got Sucked into a Genealogy Black Hole (And You Should Too)

Balthasar. Two Zephiniahs. Christenia. Arzilla.  I whispered my ancestors’ names as I clicked and clicked, tracing my family tree back to the 1620s, to a John Spencer, who lived in Virginia.

Galileo hadn’t yet been forced to renounce the idea that planets orbited the sun. The Taj Mahal had not been completed. It would be another forty years before Milton would publish Paradise Lost, but my boy John Spencer was hanging out in Virginia.

It’s amazing to me that I can know this, that I can sit in my rocking chair in the dark, avoiding sleep, and ask a little magic box who my great grandparents’ parents were. Who their great grandparents were. Who their great grandparents were.

A spark

I’ve never really been interested in genealogy. Despite a vague feeling of connection to a few people in my family’s history, I’ve always kind of feined interest when people tell me about their family trees and even when I’ve seen my own. It was just names. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with the information or why it really mattered.

Working more on my book, though, has had me thinking more about my great grandmother, my paternal grandma’s mother, Arzilla Mae. Apparently when I was born my dad felt her presence in the room and that knowledge has given me a small fascination with her. I see myself in her pictures. I feel a little like I know her, though she died at age 92, 9 years before I was born.

On a whim the other night I googled her name and was struck by a picture of her I had never seen before, uploaded by a cousin. In this one she’s the spitting image of my grandma, lounging under a quilt. She’s leaning on her father’s knee and they’re holding hands. The tenderness is palpable. His face is kind. I suddenly needed to know who this man was, my great great grandfather, who seemed to be looking at me from over a hundred years ago.


I was amazed at what I was able to find and how easily. His name was Zephiniah and he was married once before my great great grandmother. There had to be a story there. The writer in me wanted to write it. The grandaughter in me wanted to know it. For the first time, I felt the call that so many others have felt– just to know.  I clicked and clicked, retracing my steps when I met dead ends and following another branch up the family tree.

As incredible as it seemed initially that I could trace my ancestry back to the 17th century with the touch of a finger tip, that feeling was replaced with the knowledge that that was as much as I could know about these people– their names, spouses, places and dates of birth and death.

I’ll never know who the two people in the window are or why they weren’t in the photo. I’ll probably never know the story about Zephiniah and his first wife. I’ll never know what Christenia was like or how John Spencer’s family came to Virginia. The idea that it isn’t recorded somewhere, that there’s no one on earth who could tell me, that there are stories that are lost, really and truly lost, is almost unfathomable. My mind, so used to the idea that you can find out anything just by Googling it, or at least by Google Scholaring it, almost can’t process the concept that I can know these people’s names and nothing else.


But maybe that’s enough. Can you imagine John Spencer, a decade after the King James Bible was published, knowing that 400 years later, in California, his great great great great great something granddaughter would say his name?

Maybe, I’ve decided, that’s all we can ask. A part of every person whose name I read was in me before I ever thought about who the individuals were– their blood, their fears, their hopes. The idea that something else could remain– a name, an acknowledgment that they lived, is magic.

Have you been bitten by the desire to know your genealogy? What have you found? Tell me in the comments!

Settling In, Opening Up: How New Spaces Can Make Space For New Routines (And Vice Versa)

We’ve been in our new house for about three weeks now, long enough to establish some new routines. But it’s all still new enough that I’m aware of the newness pretty constantly. And that newness–that consciousness of newness, leaves a space for newness in myself as well.

When I typed the name of my preferred grocery chain into maps, two came up, both 1.8 miles from our new home. I selected one and drove to it. The next week, when our fridge was starting to look empty again, I drove to the same location. I knew where it was already. I realized this is how years of habits are formed. Though both locations are 1.8 miles from our door, I had already settled on the one that will be “our store.”

For the first couple weeks here, everything I visited– that store, the library, downtown, felt a little bit like an island. I would listen to the navigation on my phone and follow the directions but I didn’t quite see how everything fit together. The map of our new community is starting to piece itself together in my mind now. It’s amazing how our brains can take these bits of spatial information and gradually build a more complete and connected sense of place. Eventually we hold whole neighborhoods, whole cities inside ourselves.

Roses in our new yard

Being in the in-between– being aware of that process– has challenged me to take advantage of this time of neuroplasticity. I’m consciously establishing new routines that I want to be a part of me in this new place– consciously taking good care of our home, turning off my phone before I go to sleep and waiting as long as possible to turn it on in the morning, writing every day, listening to audiobooks, building community.

You don’t have to move to get into this mindset of opening. Just shake up your habits and your routines, the ones that you don’t even think about. Help yourself wake up. Park on the other side of the garage. Sleep on the other side of the bed. Take a different street to your kid’s school. Go to the other grocery store. I think I will next time.

What will you do to turn off the autopilot? What will you create when you do? Please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

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