Posted by: Jen | February 28, 2008

One Last Move

I’m sorry to do this again–I really am. The blog is moving one last time to jenlee.net. I’ve registered the domain, so any future changes will not alter my URL. Please update your bookmarks and blogrolls, and I apologize for the inconvenience. I am excited that my address will be easy to remember, and that my site will be easier to customize.

I’ve been thinking about our move to New York City a lot the last few weeks, as our one-year anniversary is coming in a couple days. In honor of the anniversary, I’ve added a page called Diary of a Move that features five encore posts from that transition time last year. There were a couple funny stories that I’d forgotten about, and sometimes it’s nice to look back and see how far I’ve come. So, if you missed them the first time around or just want a fresh chuckle at my expense, check it out. The archives are still under construction and will be more complete shortly.

Thank you for reading, and for following me one more time.

Posted by: Jen | February 26, 2008

Dose of Doubt

Sometimes I feel like I’ve ingested a terminal dose of self-doubt. When I’m late diagnosing it, the doubt has not only flared up but taken over, zapping my strength, halting my progress and undoing me from the outside in. But a lucid thought creeps in, if I’m lucky.

This is just doubt.

Then I come back from the brink, dazed by my near-miss with despair. I’m unlaced and hanging out by then, embarrassed by my dishevelment. Early in my recovery I don’t have the strength to pull myself together again, so I stay inside where no laces are required. I gradually feed on small bites of belief until my capacity to hold more returns. My crumbly state makes me cautious of large movements (suddenly the world is all sharp corners around me), so I shuffle along in sloppy slippers and wait for the bout of doubt to pass.

Posted by: Jen | February 22, 2008

I’ve Got my Loves to Keep Me Warm

White borders outline every fence and tree branch outside. I’m sitting in the famous kitchen window, feet propped up on the sill while I sip my tea. Molasses cookies are baking next to me, and in a grace-filled moment from the universe, both of my children are asleep. My writing feels like the lover I’ve missed all week.

Amelia’s on mid-winter break from school this week, but museum visits and day-trips were replaced by long hours on the sofa with our softest blankets, and the worst spell of illness we’ve seen in years. It’s Day Nine for Amelia, and she conked out by noon. We haven’t left the apartment in days, and the last time we tried, I carried her most the way with one arm, pushing Lucy in the stroller with the other. I am thankful today to watch the snow from the warm, dry inside–to have no reason to get out. The slowing down helps me listen to the things my heart has been trying to tell me, to things glossed over with haste.

It’s easy to get sidetracked with my writing by an internal conversation about what I should be doing, instead of taking my girlfriend’s advice and giving space for what is in me to come out. So I’ve been tuning in–or fumbling to, at least–to hear what wants to emerge. This path is authentic, and I prefer it to plotting and posturing. I don’t have time for such games, though they glitter and entice.

The other thing I’m hearing is an opportunity to relinquish my expectations of my family, so I can be present in the moment. To embrace the snuggles and naps in front of endless hours of public television. There will be other times to run around, but this week my daughters just want me–to hold them, to paint with them, to play Tickle Monster and chase them through the apartment. I’m learning that I am happiest when I oblige.

The forecasters predict that the city may see ten inches before this storm passes. Bring it, I say. I’ve got my loves to keep me warm.

Posted by: Jen | February 15, 2008

A Case of the Februarys

february.jpg

My daughter is home sick today, and the water in my building has been turned off for repairs. I think I’m coming down with what she’s got, but more importantly I’m exhibiting symptoms of something much longer-lasting: a serious case of the Februarys. You might recognize the symptoms: a creeping cloudiness across your emotional canvas, increased appetite, decreased activity, insatiable desire to sleep. I think I feel this way every February, when spring, like a late-running pregnancy, begins to feel like a fairy tale. Or a sham.

I’m sure the revolving door of illnesses coming through all winter isn’t helping matters. I’ve lost track of how many rounds of cold and stomach viruses we’ve collectively stumbled through. My husband has been blaming preschool, but I remember last year being very similar to this one. We didn’t have children in school then, and blamed it on the stress of moving cross-country. Now I’m suspecting a different culprit. February.

What was February like for my ancestors, who were pioneers before electricity? They likely slept more, put on a few more pounds for warmth, and rested their bodies before the demanding stretch from springtime until harvest. I have similar impulses now, but our expectations as a society demand top production all year long. What if my evolving biology hasn’t kept up with the internet and the fading boundaries on our work times, on our availability to others? What if I need a little hibernation for my body and soul, so that when spring does come (I’ll suspend my disbelief here), I’m renewed to produce something with more depth?

Someone once told me that winter drives the roots deep. I hold that thought close these days as I gaze at trees with frail empty arms, holding birds who have not forgotten their songs. Between the cold and the darkness, I’ve felt my own resources dwindle. I generally don’t seek connection with people from my past, but I’ve reached out to a couple people who have been on my mind. Joyful reunions followed, and they’ve returned to my life, encouraging me and my work. I can’t imagine reaching out the same way in June. My outsides may look frail and empty, but something mystical goes on below, unseen to observing eyes.

February has its place in the calendar, and it has its place in my life cycle–whether I like it or not. I’m still droopy and dreary more often than usual, but I grant this time and this experience legitimacy. It matters. It belongs. The cold, the dark, the reaching out for resources when mine dwindle. The rest, even the illness. My immune system grows stronger with each recovery, and my spirit does the same.

Cross-posted on NYC Moms Blog.

Posted by: Jen | February 12, 2008

Connection and Space

In the city, laws that govern connection and space are suspended, as though one has entered an alternate atmosphere. Sometimes we want to be alone when we’re surrounded by people on every side, like the girl who talks to her long-distance therapist on the phone as she walks the streets because there’s no private place to sit and let her heart speak truly. Or the woman who sat in the coffee shop recently and dialed a far-away hospital to check on her elderly father, who was admitted the previous night. Some conversations seem too personal to be public, so we do our best to give space to one another, to grant what little privacy comes from averting our gaze and appearing to be lost in our own worlds (all the while, dying to know if he’s Okay). We listen to iPods on the subway to inhabit a solitude of our own creation. We become masters at reading body language to sense who needs space, who is open to connection. It’s not difficult—pedestrian living with 35,000 people in a square mile gives us ample practice.

We try to be alone when we’re together, but we also seek connection when we’re apart. My favorite place in my apartment is the kitchen window, which faces gardens and the rear windows of our neighboring street. I can’t help thinking of Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window when I gaze out and wonder at the lives people are living so close to me. Is the woman happy, sitting at her computer with her back to the window night after night as a man occasionally passes through her room? How old is their love? Is she up late writing, as I sometimes am? Other windows never show any sign of life.

What do they see in mine? Is anyone home to watch Amelia and I dance our way through dinner preparation, or the way I sit on the floor with Lucy in the early morning, holding my breath and dunking deep into the sleepy space of time? Does anyone but God bear witness to the moments when they are both inconsolable and clinging to me through tears, and I am at a loss? I’m not sure I want to know. Even so, I find myself raising the curtain in the dark early morning hours, as though to tell my red-kettled and backward-facing friends, I’m awake. I’m here.

Despite our contradictions, we do connect, often and unpredictably. This morning I asked the girl next to me at the bakery whose paintings were featured on the cover of her NY Times. She told me about two art robberies in Switzerland this week, the most recent being a theft of a Van Gogh, a Degas, a Monet and a Cezanne (estimated value $163 million) from Zurich. She says, “It’s weird to think about them right now, plotting their next move.” We spoke casually, like old friends. I thanked her and returned to my table, burying my face in my notebook. She brought me the article as she left.

It’s so fluid, this dance we step out with strangers. In the city there are no laws, and we improvise, inhabiting this alternate atmosphere together.

Posted by: Jen | February 10, 2008

falling in love with Once

Last night we watched the movie Once, and I fell in love. Astonishingly tender and soulful, the musical performances are mesmerizing. The cinematography, dialogue and story root the viewer so solidly in reality that all your believing is reserved for the characters’ dreams. They seem possible, and more.

To hear the Oscar-nominated song, Falling Slowly, in its entirety, go here.

Posted by: Jen | February 8, 2008

A New Family Pet?

squirrel.jpg

This little critter has made our kitchen window sill a regular stop in its daily routine. One day, it sunned itself there on the concrete sill for at least an hour. Today it was grooming. I think it’s time we named our little friend. Any suggestions? Just leave them in the comments section, and stay tuned. . . .

Posted by: Jen | February 7, 2008

Barber Shop Trio

amelia-barber.jpgstella-kate-barber.jpg

Amelia and Stella Kate playing Beauty Shop, age two.

Last night the Beauty Salon Amelia inherited from her cousin came out in our monthly toy rotation. Justin is her regular client in the barber shop game, since I’m usually terrified that all those little play combs will go into my hair and never come out again. But the girls and I were alone last night, so I stepped up to plate.

Lucy was fascinated with the chair, and insisted sitting in it in front of me. She played with the mirror and practiced calling me on her cell phone. Hi, Lucy, it’s mommy. Thanks for calling me! I pre-programmed. Amelia settled in to work her moves. This one is called the Magical Twist. Now for the Mah-velous Poof. You look mah-velous, she cooed. My hair grew in volume like a Chia commercial, but my mind stopped running around and took it all in.

Have you ever had your face stroked by a four-year-old? Gentle fingers brushed my skin in each attempt to gather my runaway locks, and it was like being touched by God. Pure love. You look mag-ni-fi-cent. How could you not believe it?

The running commentary is my other favorite thing about playing with Amelia. I longed for a witness to videotape as Amelia told me she was getting me ready for my wedding, and explained to me what she thinks marriage means. But there was no one else. Some moments you can only capture with memory. I stepped off the diving board and tried to feel every sensation. Toes entering the water. Lucy turns around to plant a kiss carefully on my lips. Being submerged with my hair floating all around me. Amelia applies ‘perfume for my hair’ like a serious artist channeling divine inspiration.

Every moment, every dive, is unique. Some you want to remember forever, free-floating hair and all.

Posted by: Jen | February 5, 2008

Simple Life

mug

 

Can I get up in the morning
Put the kettle on
Make us some coffee, say “hey” to the sun…
Is it enough to write a song and sing it to the birds?
They’d hear just the tune
Not understand my love for words
But you would hear me and know

I want only this, I want to live
I want to live a simple life.

The Weepies, “Simple Life”

(Left: This is my favorite coffee cup right now, from Leaf & Bean. It makes my inner child smile.)

 

 

 

Today is an intense day for many of us. Amelia’s school lobby will be full of voters, as well as PTA volunteers running a fund-raising bake sale. After dropping off juice and cups yesterday (the items I’d signed up for), I received a barely intelligible note requesting I bring oatmeal muffins. The request seemed so random and last-minute that I planned to decline. Then I remembered that I sent oatmeal muffins for the last bake sale, so this could be an encore request.

Well, in that case . . . I suppose I could whip up a few. (I’m up by 5:30 with the girls, anyway.)

It made me breathe deeper when I heard NPR announce this morning on Morning Edition that they would not be reporting on the election today in order to give listeners space to think about their votes. Tonight as results come in, they will resume their coverage. That expressed so much respect to me, a sense of sanctity, if you will.

I’ve been under the weather for a couple days, drinking a lot of cider from the cup pictured above. Before I moved to New York, I thought cider was apple juice warmed up with a cinnamon stick in it. The fresh cider from local orchards is the most soothing thing to me about a New York winter. Soothing, simple things are just what I need today to balance out my anxious thoughts about today’s outcome in the primaries.

A soothing thought for me is that we have more in common than not. I haven’t forgotten what I heard Obama say the first time I heard him speak. “We all love our children the same way,” he said. There is something universal about the human experience. I think today is about hope for all of us, regardless of which candidate we support. It’s that simple.

Posted by: Jen | January 29, 2008

dreams for the waking world

play kitchen
Nine mornings out of ten look just like this in our apartment. Amelia found her way around my preference against costumes specific to a single character by asking Santa at the last minute for a Cinderella costume. The Santa veto. I had forgotten about that.
I worried that character-specific costumes would hinder her imagination, but she continues to add her own flair, like the blanket-converted-to-cape and ballerina-tutu-converted-to-princess-hair pictured above. Anyone who has stayed with us knows that Amelia generally emerges from her bedroom in the morning dressed in such a manner. Half the time she sleeps in costume.
My sleepy muttering, Let’s go play in the kitchen, is heard as, Let’s Play Kitchen, and both girls are off and running. The window still frames darkness when they begin pulling out small pans and wooden spoons, turning up the heat on their stove top. I turn on the kettle to brew a hot drink, gazing at the darkened windows across the garden and remembering a time when I slept past six o’clock. I sit at my writing table and the girls cook up dreams for the waking world while the day rises from its slumber.

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