All is quiet on the home front, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share some observations, thoughts, comments. Remember “Stream of Consciousness Tuesday”? Well, this is a little like that, just a few hours earlier.
We were away for the weekend again, this time as a family. We headed down to Manhattanville College for Dennis’ younger sister’s “family day” event. When we pulled into the parking lot, the attendant seemed shocked that Dennis didn’t know which dorm his daughter lived in. Wake up call for Dennis. The same thing happened to his older sister, who’s my age, when she arrived without the dorm info in hand. I guess we’re all getting old — and visibly so. Then again, I was out of college when my mom and dad were my age, so it’s really not surprising that people would suspect that Dennis and I have a college-age child. As the oldest mom at preschool pick-up, I often wonder if people think I’m Chiara’s grandma rather than her mom.
Speaking of age…I’d like to add a birthday postscript. During my recent blog entry on the joys of being 46, I didn’t mention the darker side of 46, something that you may not understand unless you’ve lost a parent too young. For me, 46 is an important year. My mother died at 47, and so the last 20 years have been a race against her body clock. I am continually measuring my life against hers. As in, if I live as long as my mother, I have only XX years left. It’s not a morbid thing, really. I think it’s a natural thing, something I’ve heard other folks talk about when they’ve had a parent die at an unnaturally young age. So, 46 is a biggie. If I get through 46, it means I make it to the age my mother was when she died. The climax of this, of course, is 47 or almost 48, which means I have passed the cut off. Weird way of thinking, but that’s the way it is. On the other, more positive hand, I sometimes look at my almost-96-year-old grandmother and realize that if I’ve inherited her genes, I may have 50 more years, at least. Pretty amazing. That’s longer than I’ve been alive!
Back to this weekend…After family day at college, which made both Noah and Olivia giddy with excitement over the prospect of going to college one day (they still haven’t grasped that they will be going to college up the street at SUNY thanks to insane college costs), we headed to Manhattan to stay with Dennis’ mom and step-dad at their apartment, which is a real treat for all of us but especially the kids. We had dinner and hung out and planned for a Sunday in the city, despite predictions of rain. Noah had grand plans — Museum of Natural History, Planetarium, Empire State Building. We opted for something without an admission charge but a big cost nonetheless — the American Girl Store, the Nintendo World Headquarters and FAO Schwartz, with Mass at Holy Family Church near the United Nations and lunch in midtown.
During all this running around the streets of the city, we passed a couple of homeless people — one, neatly dressed, holding a sign that said he was hungry and broke, the other, very sickly looking, no sign in hand but devastatingly sad. Olivia wanted to know what was wrong with the second person, so we talked about the fact that there are lots of people in the city with no money to afford a place to live or food to eat or doctors to take care of their illnesses, and we talked about how important it is to give to organizations that can help these people. It’s hard for kids to grasp the concept that people could live on a street and no one would come looking for them — no family, no parents, no children. I could see the sadness on Olivia’s face. I could see her mind working as she tried to figure out how this could be. It is hard to fathom, and yet, with the economic situation looming in this country, things are bound to get worse, much worse.
And that’s where Noah’s head is at these days. Today, when I was explaining to Noah that the “bail out” failed in Congress, the kids started talking about whether we would have to take in boarders or begin selling eggs (as if we have chickens). This comes directly from the American Girl movie about Kit, the Depression Era girl. The movie was really good, giving kids and adults alike a basic understanding of what went on during the Depression. In fact, maybe it was too effective. I explained to the kids that, no, we would not be taking in boarders, but that things in this country might get very difficult. Noah worries about stuff like this. I’m sure he went to bed tonight thinking the sky is falling, and maybe it is and I’m just refusing to look up.
Finally, I just have to give a shout out to Holy Family Church on East 47th Street. I worked for Catholic New York, just 8 blocks away, for years — as an intern, a reporter and managing editor — and I never made my way down to this church. We opted for Holy Family this weekend when the kids were up at daybreak making too much noise to stay in a NYC apartment, and I’m so glad we did. I’m not usually a fan of modern churches, but this one does it right. The Stations of the Cross, the tabernacle, the art of the Flight to Egypt and the Angel Gabriel, the baptismal font, all of it was beyond beautiful. I could do without the gigantic Risen Jesus over the altar — I’m partial to a basic Crucifix myself — but I’m even willing to give them that because the rest of the place is so fabulous. If you are near the United Nations, pop in and make a visit. I wish I had thought to take out my camera after Mass, but you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
OK, it’s late. Chiara has surgery tomorrow morning for a benign cyst in her ear. If you’re reading this before 9 a.m. — or even after — please say a prayer that all goes well. The surgery is “minor,” but anything that involves general anesthesia and my baby is major to me.
Happy Birthday to me. I turned 46 years old today. There’s something monumental about crossing over to the 50 side of my 40s. More monumental than hitting 40, I think. That was sort of anti-climactic, if you ask me. However, since I turned 40, I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the moment when the wisdom of middle age would take hold and I would finally feel comfortable in my own skin, something that hasn’t always come easy to me. Well, I’m here to tell you, the time has arrived! As I told Dennis the other day, I feel as though I have reached a crescendo in my life. In the immortal words of the Seinfeld episode on senior drivers, “I’m old, and I’m coming back.” In other words, I’m doing what I want to do regardless of what everyone else thinks or wants.
I don’t mean that in a selfish or mean sense. I mean that in a wise and softened sense. I mean that, finally, at the age of 46, I am letting go of some of the unnecessary stuff and worrying more about the important stuff — like God and my family. Nothing drove this point home more than last weekend’s camping trip at Auriesville. This would not have happened a few years ago, maybe not even one year ago. My fears of camping would have gotten the best of me and I would have missed out on the experience with Noah. Now I am embracing my inner camper, and I think that has to do with getting older. The thought of being outside in God’s creation is starting to hold a lot more weight than the dread of having to use latrines or public restrooms and sleeping on the cold ground. Suddenly schlepping through the mountains or fields without a shower for two days, covered in grime, hair shoved into a baseball cap so as not to scare the wildlife, seems absolutely perfect.
I’m feeling this new laid back side of my mature self in my work as well. I can feel my writing shifting. I recently resigned from my position as Contributing Editor at Our Sunday Visitor newspaper. After 15 years with OSV, I told my editor that I no longer felt called to write about the business of the Church but rather about the truths of the faith. That’s the best way I can describe it. Still, that was a leap of faith. I will need to find new kinds of writing to fill the void, but I know it will come. It always has — every time I’ve stepped off the proverbial ledge and trusted that I wouldn’t hit the ground.
This is where I am now, and I find that I’m very happy here. Back when I turned 30, when Dennis and I were just co-workers and friends at Catholic New York, I remember telling him that my 30s were going to be “my decade.” And, in a sense, they were. I married Dennis, had two of my three children, moved to Texas, bought a house, wrote my first book, and built my fledgling free-lance business into something livable. Not a bad decade. I didn’t think my 40s could top that. I thought it would be all down hill from there, but then along came Chiara and another book and more work and a beautiful region of the country to call home, and all the wonderful, crazy things that go along with being a wife and a parent.
Lately — and, again, a lot of this may have to do with all my retreat time and with my renewed and deeper hunger for more of God in my life — I realize that I should be enjoying my 40s, especially since I have been blessed with good health and a strong body and an even stronger will to do the things I set out to do. Life is good, as the popular T-shirts and coffee mugs say. And so it is.
Here is Chiara at her new “creative movement” class, which she just adores. This picture looks “artsy” to me. Taken through a glass window, I love how the light is shining through the opposite door as Chiara spins around in her hoop under the poster of the elegant ballerina. All in good time…
After today’s class, Chiara was so exited to be leaping and jumping and dancing “like butterflies and fairies.” She’s demonstrating her moves across the family room for Olivia as I write this.
See that little yellow and blue tent above? That was my tent during the weekend Boy Scout encampment and retreat at the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y., which is a beautiful and sacred place overlooking the Mohawk Valley. This is where Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks, was born and where Jesuit missionaries St. Isaac Jogues and St. Rene Goupil and lay missioner St. John Lalande were martyred. The entire place, which includes a beautiful 6,000-seat Coliseum church built in 1930, a small screened-in chapel in honor of Kateri, a ravine where you can read the story of Rene Goupil in Isaac Jogues’ own words, and so many other paths that take you through the Stations of the Cross or to other shrines and statues, is just gorgeous, especially on a picture-perfect early fall weekend like we had. I cannot believe it took me eight years to get to this wonderful spot only 45 minutes from my house.
Here’s the view from the Coliseum. (If you click on the photos, you should be able to enlarge them.) That’s the Mohawk River in the distance. It’s pretty easy to see why the Mohawk Indians settled here:
Here’s Noah in the ravine, preparing to ascend what the boys affectionately referred to as the “hill of death.” I took the long way back to camp via the ravine path:
Although the retreat itself was great, I really loved the camping aspect of this trip, even on Friday night when the temperatures dropped and I was wearing long underwear, a sweatsuit with an extra sweatshirt on top, a hat, a hood, gloves and socks inside my mummy bag in order to stay warm, which I did — except for my face. Still, I think I’ve finally gotten over the horrible camping experiences I had as a Girl Scout. I am so ready to begin family camping, although I think we’ll wait until late spring or summer when there is no danger of frost or worse.
The boys on the trip were great, too. They paid attention during the retreat talks, given by the very energetic and interesting Jesuit Father Rocco Danzi, and they tried to pull their weight at the camp site. Noah made scrambled eggs for breakfast and hamburgers for dinner on the propane stove, and he helped wash dishes and pots when he wasn’t cooking. The boys even took care of this vegetarian mom, cooking my fake hot dogs in a separate pot so as not to contaminate them. I don’t know if it was their special touch or the cold air, but they were the best vegetarian hot dogs I’ve ever had.
At night, the big sky was so filled with stars that you couldn’t help but stand there looking up in awe. When everyone was tucked into their sleeping bags, I could hear the boys in the tent next to mine playing the ukulele, plucking out Stairway to Heaven. Talk about a song with staying power. In the mornings, everything was covered with dew and a heavy mist settled in the valley until the sun could burn it off. The only thing missing on this trip was a campfire, which was a big loss, but we’ll make sure we have a fire pit next year. See, I’m already planning on going back next year.
Here are a couple more photos from our retreat. The crosses mark the entrance to the main grounds:
Believe it or not, I am going away for the weekend AGAIN. Only this time I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot different from what I experienced on my silent retreat. I am going with Noah to his Boy Scout Encampment/Retreat at the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, NY. I will be sleeping in a tent for two nights. I haven’t slept in a tent since I was Noah’s age, and I’m certain there were good reasons for that. I have a feeling I may rediscover just what those reasons are when I’m freezing and wide awake at some point tonight. Still, I have to admit, there’s a part of me that’s kind of excited about this. I’m becoming a camper, of sorts, in my old age.
Anyway, I’ve been wanting to go the Shrine, which is only an hour’s drive from our house, since we moved here almost eight years ago, so this is a great opportunity. The weekend will include a Mass with Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany on Saturday night as well as lots of retreat sessions for the boys. I’m hoping I get a chance to venture down into the Ravine and around the rest of the grounds.
You’ll hear all about it next week. Have a good one.