The pace of life is picking up and has been for a while although I admit to becoming aware of it long after other people who are more of the busy world. I know many people who have already gone to far away places, stayed for a month and come back with healthy looking skin and bright eyes.
This coming Sunday, I am scheduled to teach pysanky writing at my church and a friend wanting to sign up noted that there are two others events going on—a zoom Moth Story hour and an in-person music rehearsal. Wasn’t it just last week when every gathering happened in front of a computer monitor? How glorious that there are now conflicts. How glorious that travel time is now part of many plans!
But I live a small life.
On Sunday, on our way into church—we arrive an hour before services begin to go to choir practice—Julia and I noticed perfect small yellow narcissus blooming in corners around the back of the building. Without a spring garden of my own, I notice and cherish those brave little yellow blooms. I know that even though the day may be warm and sunny, there are cold days ahead. Silently, I wish the brave blooms are sheltered enough to survive another freeze.
And I wondered, had I seen blooms in this place before? I might have just before we were locked down two years ago, but what I remember from that time is only the spring flowers we saw on our Covid daily walks. I think it is probable that these little narcissus bloomed in 2020 after no one was walking into the church building and last year it was the same. I think to thank them for their perseverance and persistence, their willingness to be so beautiful even when no one was looking.
It is the time of year for pysanky writing time, and many evenings Julia and I light the candle after supper and work on our eggs. Or Julia works on her newest felting project. Julia’s relationship to creation and art is shifting. So much time in the last two years, she has made art as a requirement of the day. An assignment I put on her, like reading or math or specific cello practice—practice that seems to be without ultimate result. Julia does not carry any real understanding of art in the long term, but there is a spark of something igniting. Some real desire and a sense of accomplishment. I don’t think that the passion for it has truly re-awakened although passion may not be a try description. Art—drawing, clay work, using paints—was simply an integral part of her make-up when she was younger. A task that was essential to her being—it was communication before words, it was expression.
I cannot make it so again. If only I had that power. I do, however, constantly scheme what I can do to connect art making with rewards that she wants. Finding carrots. Offering carrots. Julia wants a new phone. Julia can earn the money for a new phone. Julia can make dozens of felt figures and we can make an Etsy shop for her where she can sell them. She still balks at the mere suggestion of doing something as unknown as selling her work, of creating a shop, but she is listening. She does not shut her ears and make a fuss. Or at least, as much of a fuss.
Amidst peers who are applying to colleges, choosing majors, getting licenses, moving in with boyfriends, not making a big fuss about setting up an etsy shop sounds like a small step but it is a Julia step.
Today, Julia is obsessed with her body image. She has been for a long while now but the monolog and the conversations come and go. Recently, it has been intense. At school, talk of her body brings on a flurry of negative self talk which she doesn’t do at home. At least, not much. Not that she is not thinking it, but I don’t think she feels free to talk negatively about herself in front of me.
I asked her Inclusion Facilitator about the negative self-talk, and she wrote that today’s talk included:
I am going to take a knife and cut off my skin.
I am going to take a knife and cut so I bleed my guts.
I want to take all my birth control pills so it kills me.
The first one reminds me how much she hates the roll of “fat” that appears when anyone sits down. In Julia’s case, it is a very little roll of “fat.” We have held onto that roll of “fat” and I’ve instructed Julia to stand up. Or try to. Of course, she can’t—she needs that “fat” to stretch out and stand. And she will agree with that idea when she is rational, but she doesn’t talk about knives and cutting say when she is calm and rational.
What is so frustrating is that Julia has a great body! She can wear any kind of clothes she wants and look good; she is able to do almost any sort of activity with no worry about her body’s ability to keep up. She used to talk about how she wanted to look like anime characters and actually, therapists, school staff and I have been relatively successful at talking her out of those ideas. But there are still skinny Asian women on the internet and Julia finds them. She spends a lot of time googling ways to lose weight and she regularly shows me websites for diet pills, purges and cleanses, crazy exercises with special equipment, et al. I look at each one and I usually debunk them. I hope she is finished with this obsession before she has her own money to spend!
I am willing to entertain her forays into a healthier lifestyle when they are really that. She found a morning ritual cleanse that begins with a glass of hot lemon water with breakfast. This is a habit that we used to do and I don’t know when we stopped. So, we began again. For the moment, it satisfies her that I’ve taken her advice.
Related to her body obsession, Julia pestered me last weekend to get out our bikes. We pumped up tires and had two successful rides before the temperature dipped again. I know Julia sees biking as a way to get skinnier; I see it as a way to get stronger and also to give her independence. And so, I did nothing to quash her desire to ride. We rode twice to where Community Connections is and when the weather gets warmer, we’ll ride there some mornings. It is less than 15 minutes away by bike. I cannot yet imagine allowing Julia to bike to Community Connections without me, but it is a secret dream of mine that I am not going to let go of just yet.
When she got home from her program, we talked about her negative self talk and then about what set her down that path. It was talk about the future and however vague that kind of talk is, it is scary. So, we talked about what she wants to do—art, a fashion blog, working at the con, an instagram presence—and I insist that all these things take skills she needs to learn. And I slowly go through some of the skills—as simple as being friendly with co-workers and doing the tasks she is assigned—and talk about how she can learn the skills she needs doing work that is not perfectly suited to her interests. I tell her how I worked in a grocery store years before I became a lawyer and what I learned in the store. For a moment, I get buy in. She agrees to work in a store or a cafe or shelve books in the library. For a moment, she takes it all in. Or at least, she takes in something. And she is calm. She ends the conversation saying that she wants to have a happy life. I have said this to her so many times as my wish for her life. I agree with her happy life. We hug and then run to Old Navy for sweat pants before rowing practice.
I wrote above that I live a small life and indeed, this has been on my mind lately. My own pace of life is picking up a bit what with FUUSN activities, HILR classes, Julia related explorations and a very few social outings, but I do spend most of my days alone and, unless I am singing, I am quiet. Usually reading or writing. Part of me, although it is a small part, longs for more social time. I wonder if I am doing enough to cultivate at least one intimate friend within driving distance. I definitely have acquaintances and colleagues now, I have a few people I could call for coffee or a walk. Is this the time I should be leaning into friendship? But it is impossible for me to write without acres of time alone and quiet. I wonder if I will always need so much time alone. For a short time in Madison, I felt like I had found balance. At least, I see in my mind’s eye that I had found balance. And it took a long time to find it.
This morning I was mining some old blog and journal entries for a new memoir piece for class at the end of the week. For the first time in more than 12 years, I read my day-by-day notes on David’s heart transplant. Written with such an optimistic heart, I recorded the good and the less good days. I make note of the set backs and write just a few of my fears.
A few things strike me: first, David’s impatience about the healing process, evidenced every day, even the day after the transplant. Right after he was released to go home, he insisted that I return the shower stool and the toilet extender because he wanted to get back to normal and didn’t need them. I did not insist on anything and let him proceed at the pace of healing he himself set. His doctor allowed him the same. With 20/20 hindsight, his doctors and I were wrong. David did not know the healing that he needed, and I believe he pushed himself well beyond a safe limit. Who knows if he would have lived longer if he surrendered to the process, to his body. I can never know that, but I see the process and the surrender as much more important that I knew at the time.
Next, even in my optimistic musings, there were shadows. Like David, I brushed them aside, sure that there were no challenges we could not meet. Again, with hindsight, the path we followed to July 5 and death could be traced from day one post-transplant and we did not take in how probable that path was.
Finally, the generosity of our Madison community. We had no extended biological family or friends of many years that came to help. We had conducted our adult lives with such fierce independence that we would have never asked and I doubt if anyone would have thought to volunteer. Still, in the three years we had lived in Madison, there was community—FUS, PTO, school staff, therapists, a couple who had moved from Indy to Madison just before we did and a family with four Chinese daughters—who fed us, took care of Julia and made her feel safe which was no easy task and did so many things before I thought to ask. How fortunate, how blessed, how . . . I still have no words to describe that care.
Like I said, I have not read those entries in all these years and I certainly could not write about that time in any coherent way. I will not try to put any of it in a memoir piece today, but writing here, knowing that part of my community will probably read it, is what I can do today.
And a Suzanne step, to be sure.