The Children Thing.

At thirty-eight, childless and unmarried, time with babies is both precious and painful.

Today, I got to meet my friends’ baby boy. Charlie is just over a month old and everything you would hope for in a new baby. He is big, healthy, strong and beautiful. His little hands are perfect. His ears look like tiny little pieces of art. His body is warm, and his cry both sweet and commanding.  I loved every minute of getting to hold this little guy. Even when he cried, I loved trying to comfort and soothe him. He is perfect. And he is not mine.

I’m no longer at the age where friends are having their first babies. I’m past that age. Charlie is a second child. I have one friend who recently had her first, but most are having their second, third or fourth by now. And I have none.

Odds are good that I won’t know the experience of learning of a pregnancy and sharing the news with a happy partner. I will not carry and birth a child. I won’t have those happy hospital photos where I am holding my newborn and hoping I am covered and look halfway decent given the presence of a camera. I won’t have the coming home photos where I’m slightly overweight but doing the best I can to have my hair done and at least be a little made up. And I certainly won’t have that lifetime of watching a child grow, constantly remembering the moments, hours, days and months when he or she and I were one.

I remember being in college and sitting with some girlfriends talking about future dreams. One of us asked the question, “If you could have anything named after you, what would it be?” One of us answered, “A building on campus.” Another said, “A scholarship.” I answered, “A granddaughter.”

In my mid-thirties, after the fourth time that someone I could see myself loving chose someone else, I started preparing myself emotionally to be single and childless. I don’t know how other people do that, but I started telling myself that children change things in a way that I don’t want.  After thirty-something years of living on my own schedule, how could I possibly cater to someone else?  After years of training and traveling freely, how could I give that up? Right now, I choose what I want based on my own timing and schedule. Whether it’s about work or travel or exercise or my interest in movies or concerts, I don’t answer to a family; I do what I want. I don’t have to put my own needs and desires after that of a child. My time and money are mine. I have lived my entire life with the freedom to be selfish. A child would end that. I would have to become selfless, and that would be bad for me, maybe even impossible after all these years.

And I believe me most of the time. Most days, I think and believe that I am over the desire to have a child of my own. But when I hold a newborn and watch a family work together to take kids to the park and get them fed and keep them happy – when I see a little girl share in her mother’s beautiful red hair or I see a little boy named after his dad – I know I am watching my dream pass before my eyes.

Freedom is good. Being able to take off for a last minute weekend away is a wonderful thing. Having the time to train and commit to something like Ironman is fantastic. But having a child? Starting and raising a family? That is real and precious life.

It’s just not mine.

Tired but inspired.

The theme of January thus far has been work. Lots of it. Lawyer work. Writing work. Day and night, my life seems to be about work. That happens. My work comes in phases. Sometimes I’m buried in work. Sometimes I’m concerned about the lack of it. What’s different about this time of intense volume is that I don’t mind it. I love what I’m doing and the people I get to spend my days and nights around. It’s hard and darn close to overwhelming at times, but it’s good. Great, actually.

Cat Calendar Revisited

This is another page from my favorite new cat calendar. As you can see, it was from yesterday, but I was busy all day at work, so I didn’t get a chance to post about it. But I love it.

Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people. – Martina Navratilova.

The cat reminds me of Bread and Butter minus their white chest and paws. The caption reminds me of a speech Erin gave to my Toastmasters club – a contest winning speech called “Labels.” Martina Navratilova reminds me of my youth traveling the state and country playing tennis.

To me, these are all good things.

A bit of Jackson Browne.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove alone to Dallas to spend some time with my friend Meredith and my friends Lina and Wegs, pictured here (just because they are so stinkin’ cute).

On the trip up, I found myself listening – really listening – to some CDs that I had in my car.  When I drive, I always have music playing but often it’s background noise. It’s not usually the center of my attention. On this drive though, it was.

I posted a bunch of lyrics on Facebook as they struck me. (Yes, I did this while driving. Sorry, Erin.)  The posting started with a line from “These Days.”

Last night, my friend Don, through his girlfriend Cynthia, introduced me to a Jackson Browne song I hadn’t heard. It’s apparently one he wanted played at his funeral. It’s called “For a Dancer.”

The entire song is beautiful and worth a listen.  But the lyrics that really struck me are:

I don’t know what happens when people die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening

And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ’round
Crying as they ease you down
’cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing
Dancing our sorrow away
(right on dancing)
No matter what fate chooses to play
(there’s nothing you can do about it anyway)

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another’s steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone 

When I love something I read or watch or listen to, my measure of love is often the degree to which I wish I’d written it.  I wish with my whole heart that I’d written “For a Dancer.”

I thank Don and Cynthia for the song.

The song sent me searching for other things Jackson Browne. I don’t know why, but I assumed he was no longer living. Maybe I thought that because his words seem to wise that I had convinced myself that he was super old. He’s not. He’s very much alive and still playing music, and I intend to see him in concert one day soon.

Post some concerts, Mr. Browne.  I’m ready.

(And for those of you who endured my Pissed Off post, I trust you gather than I’m in a much better place now. I’ve done yoga twice this weekend, once alone and once with Poppe. I got to swim and have breakfast with Jeanie. I talked to Pete and started making plans to visit him, Teri and Marylee in Houston.  I had lunch with my sister Marline. I also spent some time at a wake for Don where people got up and said things about him. I couldn’t speak, but in my heart I was thanking Don for voicing words of acceptance to me long before I even knew I needed acceptance. It’s been a rich weekend.)

Pissed off.

I scrambled.  All day long I scrambled with the goal of getting to a 6:30 p.m. yoga class – the last offering of the day.  And after a day of frustrating phone calls and greater than normal frenzy, I hurried out the door at 6:08, wanting, wishing, desperately seeking a yoga class to work out my stress and get my head straight.  I knew I’d have to come back to the office, but the 90 minutes of sweat and exertion would me good.

What happened next?

The parking lot to the studio was full. Every single level. And the neighborhood streets all around my little downtown studio were packed. I wish I’d had the nerve to park in a damned handicap spot, but I’m not that girl, so I drove back to the office. Unexercised and pissed off, I drove back to the office.

I don’t recall ever having hated my car so much. All I needed was some place to put the damn thing so I could get into my studio and decompress. That’s all I wanted.  A yoga class at the end of my day.  I didn’t want a drink or a date. I didn’t need a parade or even a pat on the back. I just wanted 90 minutes in a hot room with my towel and mat.

I’d curse the happy hour goers at the neighboring bar who most certainly took my spot.  I’d curse the yogis who arrived early or lived closed enough to walk or ride bikes to my studio. I’d curse the contractor for not building more parking or the studio for launching the 60 day challenge that packs my studio at the start of each year.  I’d curse Ben Affleck for writing and directing “The Town,” the movie that kept me up far too late last night and made me sleep in this morning – through the 5:45 a.m. class.  But at the end of the day, I have only myself to blame.

I slept in. I chose to work rather than make a morning, lunchtime or afternoon class.  I pushed the day until the last possible minute that I could leave and make it to the last class.  I did this.  And that is precisely why I am fuming in this moment.

The idiot/bastard/object of my wrath in this story is me. Dammit.

I hate that.

A Message From My Cat Calendar.

My roommate from my boarding school days sent me a gift that I received just yesterday. It’s a daily desk calendar of cats. I love cats. Karyn knows that. Short of sending me an actual cat, the next best thing is a precious calendar full of ridiculously cute cat photos. 

I took the calendar to my office this morning and was struck by today’s message:

“In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular.” Those round little eyes, and those words struck me.

In these last couple of months, I’ve realized some things about myself. Relevant to this discussion is that I realized that I want to live and to really live. I’ve had seasons of thinking that a car crash wouldn’t be so bad as long as I didn’t survive it. Or that a random act of violence would be better spent on me than someone who loved her life. I haven’t always loved mine. I have loved my family and my friends. But I have not always loved my life. These days, I love my life.

I’ve been at my current law firm job only since July of this year. But where I work now was home to me for nearly eleven years – from 1996 until 2007. I know my managing partner. I know his heart. I know the man I consider to be my “big boss.” I know his kindness. I love the people I work with and get to be around these days. I am handling cases that are perfect for me and my personality. I left this place voluntarily four years ago, and it took just the right alignment of the stars for me to find my way back. But I did and I am happier now than I have ever been in my legal career. I know it has everything to do with this place. And I am terribly grateful.

I also love my writing work. I started a writing business this year. I have worked with people to write letters, websites, blog postings, and speeches. I’ve also written some articles, mostly profiles of interesting people. Putting words together is fun for me. I’m surprised sometimes how much people do not enjoy this thing that I love. I’m reminded that we are all different. We are wired differently and built for different tasks, and I believe from the depths of my heart that I was wired to write and to do so happily. It’s been a gift for me to launch this business and get to see it grow. Again, stars had to align just so for this business to come together, but they did.

In addition to loving what I get to do, I live in a wonderful city near my family, and I have wonderful friends. But this year, I discovered that life is bigger than the people and places I know. I recently travelled to Europe for the first time. I’ve spent many weekends in other towns across the country, usually with people I love but sometimes alone, and I have found pure joy in living out of a suitcase and exploring the unfamiliar and the unknown.

Nothing about my life is as I thought it would be fifteen or twenty years ago. I fully expected that I would graduate law school, marry a man I “loved” for the better part of a decade, and have more kids than any one person probably should. I didn’t expect to spend more than a decade actually working as a lawyer. I never expected to own my own business. I didn’t expect to be a triathlete or an Ironman. I didn’t expect to have opportunities or even the desire to travel the world. My life isn’t as I planned it, but I know that I am lucky to have the freedoms and abilities that I have.

That doesn’t mean life is easy. This year in particular, I’ve experienced some rifts that have torn my heart to pieces. I have felt an isolation from people I love. I have been on the receiving end of words and actions that will haunt me always. My cousin Eileen Ghali recently posted a poem called “Branded.” It begins:

I wish you had been more careful
With those words that you flung out
At me today
I guess you didn’t realize
That they were red hot
Though spoken in “jest”
Or in a quiet voice
They were red hot
And they seared my heart
Branding me with the word

I relate to her words. I have been branded this year, and branding hurts.

But even in the face of the rifts, the isolation, and the things I can’t forget, I have experienced and continue to experience…joy. Pure joy.

I spent the weekend in Portland with Erin. On New Year’s Day, we had an hour to kill, and we debated how that hour should be spent. Thinking about my to do list and hers, I thought we should work. Erin suggested we head out into the sunshine and shoot hoops. At five foot two, I have not shot hoops in years. But we picked up her basketball and went to the park and spent about forty minutes playing this game of my youth – this game I had adored in elementary school when, at five foot two, I was taller than most of the girls in my class. 

That’s me in the front. Number 12. I had bad hair, ridiculously thick eyebrows, and a goofy, stupid grin. I remember that time and the pure fun of being a kid doing something I loved.  
As I discovered this New Year’s Day that I still remember the basic mechanics of shooting, as I occasionally heard nothing but net, I realized that I was in one of those moments of pure joy that have come to characterize my adult life – this wonderful life that hasn’t worked out at all as I had planned.

Yes, the cost of living is high. But it is absolutely worth every cent.

My Favorite Bag.

I spent the holiday weekend in Portland, Oregon.  As with most of my trips, I took with me my reliable Eddie Bauer carry-on and my favorite pink duffle bag.

I bought this bag from Rancho Ojo de Agua, a family ranch that, among other things, makes duffles, totes, purses, etc., out of feed bags. It’s a creative mode of recycling. This bag travelled with me to Italy and Greece, and it’s made numerous weekend jaunts all over the country. I love it. It’s big and strong enough to carry my computer, journal, reading material, my purse, and a change of clothes.  It’s small and soft enough to fit beneath the seat in front of me.

Most fun is that every single time I carry it, conversations seem to start out of nowhere. Some people think I work for Purina. Others want to know where I got it because they have friends who should be donating bags to this business. This weekend, carrying my bag, I met a guy whose friend makes organic dog food.  He wants to connect his friend with this ranch to see how they could work together.

I love this bag. I love the random conversations it generates. I love air travel and holiday weekends.  I love trips and having fun.

It’s good to be home, but I’m looking forward to the next time my suitcase, my bag and I go somewhere together.  It’s always an adventure.