The Future of Fenway

The last time I was at a Red Sox game was pre-kids.  Pre-worrying-about-someone-else’s-bladder-but-mine.  Pre-stuffing-vibrating-little-bodies-into-ridiculously-small-sweaty-seats.

The excitement was still there.  The awe of the gate rising above Yawkey Way.  The hum of my soul resounding with the rest of Red Sox Nation.

image

Jennifer Butler Basile

New sensations?

The abject terror of someone sweeping my child away in the crowd.  The overwhelming desire to wrap my arms around them like a mama bird with her brood.  Irritation when they wouldn’t hold my hand.  Impatience when they didn’t read my mental directions on how to navigate the milling crowds.

This was my first time leading my babies through the big city.  I’d done it myself plenty of times, but leading literal babes through the woods was a new and disconcerting experience.

It also offered many teachable moments.

Telling my ten year-old how to keep her bag close.  Telling my five year-old who insisted on bringing my old flip phone with no service not to set it down anywhere.  Telling my eight year-old not to wave her mini Dominican flag celebrating the retirement of Pedro Martinez’ jersey dangerously close to fellow fans’ heads.

But also, what a bull pen is.  A foul line.  Tagging bases.  Striking out.  How to do the wave.

And it was a way to rediscover the magic of rooting for the Red Sox through my children’s eyes.  Seeing the spark when they realize that the guy at the plate right now is Big Papi in the flesh.  Sharing the excitement of singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ at the top of our lungs.  Chanting ‘Let’s go, Red Sox’ in unison.

The Sox may have lost the game, but we’re still a nation of believers.  And we may have just clinched the next generation of die-hards.  New Englanders live and breathe for their team – whether it’s 1918, 2004, or any year in between.

And that’s worth the whole gamut of sensations that comes with.

Knots

Why do we not let ourselves be held?

Are we afraid of the fallout?

Of the softening
that occurs with the slightest
of pressure on the hard outer shell

Cracking the protection
we have absurdly built up

Thinking we can fool
the shadows that lurk
just out of sight

A touch, a push, a gentle squeeze
and it all comes rushing to the surface

Releasing the tension
that does nothing but tie us up

A Man Called Ove

We all know a man called Ove – or better yet, exactly like Ove.

A crotchety old man. The neighborhood watchdog policing persnickety policies about which no one else cares. A man who never has a nice word to say, who always has something about which to complain.

He exists in every family or neighborhood. In archetypes and novels. Small screen and silver.

He excels in Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_lg

A third person narrative and clever titles for each chapter continually referring to the main character as ‘a man called Ove . . .’ (backs up with a trailer – as in chapter three) establish a sort of psychic distance between Ove and the reader. We see him as the world does. The archetypal cranky old man.

But just as many of us secretly yearn for the day and chronological age at which we can tell the world around us how we really feel, such outrageously brusque behavior almost endears Ove to the reader. At the very least, it entertains us. His dysfunctional interactions with his neighbors and clerks at the Apple store made me laugh out loud more than once. The fact that Ove is resolutely dedicated to his lifetime car of choice, Saab, brought me – as a Saab driver myself – even more joy.

While the chapter titles are structured the same throughout the book, readers slowly move closer to Ove and his motivation, the reasons for his dysfunction and underlying sadness. He wants to be left alone. He purposely pushes people away because the one person in the world who made him live – his wife – is gone.

“If anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either.”

And so now, “Ove just wants to die in peace.” He wants to meet his wife on the other side and will try whatever means it takes to get there.

What I appreciate about this novel is the empathetic way it deals with depression and attempted suicide. Ove, while archetypal in other ways, does not fit the stereotypical profile of a suicidal person. Backman’s portrayal shows that depression can be situational – and elicit feelings of such dire circumstances that the only option left seems to be suicide.

However, Backman’s novel also shows the amazing strength and redemptive powers of love. It may be love that causes Ove to yearn to be reunited with his departed wife, but it is also the long reach of her love that reminds him to be a better man. It is through the initially annoying love and attention of his neighbors that Ove finds a reason to live. It is the hard fought and won love of a feline companion that offers him solace.

There is love in a riotously abstract portrait blasted in color by a three year-old. In a hand to hold. A skill transferred. A deed proffered. A meal shared. There is love in a sense of belonging, community.

A Man Called Ove reminds us all what it means to truly live and love – and I loved every minute of it.


In fact, I loved Ove so much, the next few ‘Weekend Write-Off’ entries will be dedicated to favorite excerpts of the novel, which is just full of gems.  Ove and I will see you next Friday!

Grace

The bounce in the step
the joy bubbling up and over
through words, demeanor, joie de vivre

The hearty laugh
blossoming at the core, rolling out in waves
infectious, contagious, sanctifying – us

The conscious breath
undulating and growing with each notice
the physical embodiment of our existence

It fills us –
if we watch for it
if we train our eyes with a gentle gaze
if we open our heart to the gifts around us

It imbues us with a calming peace
and a loving embrace

We can all glide through life with a little grace

This Ain’t Any Ol’ Con

So I am living the hipster life. Typing on a table so repurposedly wonky my laptop rocks back and forth disconcertingly. In sun-dappled shade as I wait to sip my freshly prepared cafe mocha and eat my just warmed vegetable quiche.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

It’s delicious.

All of it.

The flaky crust. The gooey egg. The sugary froth. The warm breeze.

The ability to notice such details as the vaguely distant whoosh of traffic. The inability to safeguard little people.

I can’t.

They’re not here.

I am alone.

Which, even though it was an acupuncture appointment I had this morning, was blessedly just what the doctor ordered.

I’m at the back-end of a weekend packed with emotionally-charged, mentally-draining conference work.

The Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference.

Lest you get the wrong impression, I enjoyed this conference immensely.

I so looked forward to connecting with fellow survivors of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (commonly lumped together and referred to as postpartum depression). I expected to commiserate and trade war stories. I expected to get amazing fuel and ammo for advocacy – a role into which I thought I’d fully transitioned.

I did not expect to be so completely enveloped by the emotions I thought I’d left behind.

All throughout the first day of workshops, panels, and speakers, I teared up and misted over when particularly poignant points were made. But I was good. While I still danced with depression and angled around anxiety on random occasions of my everyday life, my period of postpartum depression was done.

And then, on the second day of the conference, Annette Cycon of MotherWoman got up to talk. As she described what transpired after an inexplicable bout of rage during her two young daughters’ bath time, my grief bubbled up and out of my body.

“I went into my bedroom and curled into the fetal position on the floor. I held my head, rocked back and forth, and sobbed. I said, ‘It’s either homicide or suicide – and I can’t do either. I love myself too much. And I love them too much.’”

Hearing this raw account, I sobbed. My face contorted into the grimace of one silently choking back tears. My shoulders shook. I experienced this incredibly intimate moment of grief in the midst of a room full of mothers. I felt so incredibly alone and yet dreaded anyone noticing and reaching out to me.

And yet, I wasn’t embarrassed.

There was no need.

I was in a room full of women, mothers who, while their own grief/rage/depression/disappointment/detachment/love/mania/compulsion manifested itself differently, had all been at the bottom of their own deep, dark hole. They were all at various footholds on their way back up and out, or sliding down and scrambling for a hand to hold – to stop them – to stop the pain, the agony – to spark the love they needed to feel for themselves and their children.

I may not have expected to awaken the grief, guilt, shame, and pain I thought I’d left behind – and apparently only buried – but I also didn’t expect to find a tribe of mothers instantly and deeply connected by their shared experience. And that was such a life-giving and validating surprise.

Soon, I will have to leave my empty coffee cup and the flaky crumbs of quiche crust behind. Soon, I will have to stop pretending I am an unencumbered hipster who can write alfresco for hours. Soon, I will collect my children and return home to our ‘normal’ lives, our harried routine, my possibly high levels of anxiety and masked depression.

But there will be hugs around the neck and hearty belly laughs. And there will always, always be my tribe of warrior mamas who’ve got my back.

We Are Made of Stories

As I stood on the porch of the triple decker and listened to their stories, tears came to my eyes.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

The girl who quit school after grade eight because she didn’t have the proper clothes for high school. The pride in her voice for her brother with a ‘sharp mind’ who went on to become a judge – because she contributed her wages to his education once hers had stopped. Sugar on bread moistened under the tap as a sweet treat. A wagon cobbled together with whatever scraps a band of neighbors could find.

These are the intonations and inflections of lives lived, identities formed, cultures cemented in history.

The Museum of Work and Culture, in the heart of Woonsocket, RI, tells the story of the many French-Canadian citizens who contributed to the mill industry there. I have not a French-Canadian bone in my body, but their story of immigration and integration is that of my ancestors as well. The hard jobs they took, the harsh living conditions they endured for a better life – if not for them, then their children.

The power of their stories lies in their telling.

The Museum of Work and Culture does a fabulous job of incorporating audio recordings of the oral histories they’ve collected. Quite frequently, there is not a face to match the voice; it is over the images of a film or piped into the replica of a 1920s triple decker front porch. This fact may make them even more affecting. The voices of the past reach into the consciousness, reminding us they are gone, but their mark remains.

They urge me to record my husband’s great-grandmother’s story from Arctic, RI. They remind me to dig deeper into my great-great-grandmother’s story in the mills in Lincoln, her trip from Massachusetts, and Nova Scotia before that.

History is very much alive and well. It is places like The Museum of Work and Culture that remind us of that – and of the fact that we wouldn’t be who we are without it. We cannot let these important stories die. It is the stuff we are made of.

Timing is Everything

There is that anticipatory moment,
when the kettle sings and I rush to snap the stove top knob shut,
the satisfying gurgle of the hot water overtaking the tea bag

pixshark

pixshark


tumbling
down
around
then up
plump and pregnant
releasing its aromatic gifts

The two to three minute steep time seems an eternity
and yet not as long as waiting for the first sip
that won’t scald the tongue

Too soon and there is an acrid taste on the tip of my tongue for the rest of the day
Too long and the water is lukewarm, a let down after such hot expectations

There is a small window,
an optimum sipping time
Bright hot, but not burning
Satisfyingly warm, but not wimpy

My impatience often gets the better of me
and after a few near misses of steamed nostrils and blistered lips,
I move on to something else,
my mug mellowing on the coffee table.

When I remember and/or return,
I am able to gulp several swallows at once.
Not at all the way tea is meant to be drunk.

The taking in of tea is meant to be an experience.
As important as its ingestion is the warming of the hands around the mug,
the waiting, the inhaling,
the sensory experience.
Not the amount of things to be ticked off the to-do list while I’m waiting.

Timing is everything –
but sometimes it’s also about letting it stop.

Introverted Enlightenment

I never should have read this article.

Surviving-as-an-Introverted-Mother_SOURCE_stocksy

Surviving as an Introverted Mother by Kristen Howerton

Sure, it convinced me that I wasn’t a terrible mother.  That it was okay not to desire constant physical contact.  To crave down-time, alone time.  To require it.  For my mental and emotional well-being.

Wow.

What a refreshing and liberating concept.  And validating.

It told me what my soul already knew.  But that my conscience(?) told me was a fault, a failing.  A roadblock to caring for my children in the best way possible or giving them full affection.

All bull$h!t – except that the needs of modern motherhood don’t care about the stirrings of the soul.

Shortly after reading that resonant article, my children started summer vacation.

It’s all-kid, all-the-time.  My three little darlings with me and each other 24/7.

It’s an adjustment for all of us.  A change in schedule, company, routine. And no opportunity for down-time.

Ironically, the article that liberated me only a few weeks ago has imprisoned me in a summer cell now.

Maybe I wouldn’t be feeling such ennui at the equinox if I hadn’t received that introverted enlightenment.

If I thought that running roughshod with constant company, arts and crafts extravaganzas, beach days and late nights was status quo, maybe I wouldn’t be feeling so full – and not in a fulfilled way, but in an I-ate-a-little-of-everything-on-the-buffet-table-at-the-cookout-and-then-went-back-for-seconds sort of way.

But that enlightened author, in touch with her inner introvert, showed me a glimpse of eternal bliss and I can’t unsee it.  If only I could see some quiet time in the future.

Time to Stand Up

We’ve got a little Lord of the Flies action going on at my house.

And I don’t mean as part of our summer reading experience.

Day Three of summer vacation and we’ve already seen power struggles, fisticuffs, name-calling, water-dousing, food-stealing, all-around controlled mayhem.

Anticipation of vacation got them started the weekend before. You could feel the venom bubbling below the surface; the obnoxious volume gearing up; the cruel and unusual punishment saved especially for siblings coming out in dribs and drabs.

I sensed the need for a preemptive strike. Instituting a schedule would work. Not as rigid as school days, but some shape to their days so we all knew what to expect.

But activities are already pulling us here and there – and the lazy lull of summer is pulling me into a lovely unregimented sway.

But those little insects won’t let me rest for long. And before they pummel each other to the point of no return, I best set up some semblance of civilized society.

Our lives depend upon it.

schmoop.com

schmoop.com

Raising Hackles

Just before Samuel Slater arrived in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and unleashed the Industrial Revolution this side of the Atlantic, women made all the clothing needed by their families. Not for hobby, not out of a profound sense of affection, but out of necessity.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

She would pick the flax she’d grown in a plot just outside her door, she’d separate the seeds from the soft fluff she needed to then card, spin, and weave on a loom – to then measure and sew the actual garment. A process which took one to two years.

One to two years! For one garment of clothing!

Our tour guide at the Slater Mill historical site told us that weaving five yards of fabric a day was only one of a woman’s daily duties during this time period. She also tended to the garden – weeding, harvesting, maintaining. She rose well before the family to start the fire in the hearth – the only heat source for cooking – and continually tended and adjusted it throughout the day according to their needs. She baked bread. She scoured the wooden troughs from which her children communally ate. She cleaned the house. And she, you know, mothered.

Around the time we viewed the loom larger than my bathroom at home, I got the sense that I could never complain again about loading and emptying the dishwasher. An overwhelming heaviness overtook me, thinking of all the duty and drudgery to which a woman of that time was subject.

We modern mothers are overcome – stretched to the limit with carting and carrying, worry and work, busyness and pains in the butt. But really, if we don’t get to the watering and our lettuce wilts at the root, we can go to the drive-through and buy a salad in a pretty plastic clamshell. It is not a matter of life or death. We can order clothing online and it magically appears at our door. Knitting is done for fun, for stress-relief.

But, still, it’s hard.

So how do any one of us – down through the eons – complete the insurmountable task that is nurturing and growing a family to fruition​?

Did the woman who sat at this now-wavy glass window lament her daily list of chores? Did she wish to prick her finger and fall to sleep indefinitely? Or did she revel in the present moment – unhindered by history and future? Handing herself over to the inevitability of the the task at hand and the survival of her family?

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

Another mother chaperoning our trip said they must’ve prayed for berry season. ‘Berry salad for dinner, kids!’ ‘Even they had to find ways to make life easier, right?’ Perhaps they did. Perhaps they created their own historical life hacks. Their artifacts and traditions live to tell their tales so something stuck.

I should feel my life is easier in comparison to what I saw that day. In the thick of my own mothering melee, I appreciate the lesson, but don’t yet feel it in my bones. Still, I do feel solidarity with all the mothers down through the eons who have and do fight the good fight.

It is woven into the fiber of our being.

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