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Family, Guest Posts

Finding Home

December 24, 2017
school

By Kathleen Siddell

The air conditioning hummed white noise throughout our 15th floor apartment. My boys zoomed cars on the slick marble floor. “We’re going to move back to Connecticut,” I announced to everyone and no one. One cannot make such an announcement to a four and five year old who are busy driving in an imaginary world. I asked them to put down their toys and sit with me on the couch.

“We’re going to be moving from Singapore back to Connecticut.” I tried to read their faces.

“Oh, to our home country,” my five year said. “Jens’ home country is Denmark.”

“Connecticut is where we go for Christmas, right?” My four year was trying to read my face.

“Yes.”

“So it will be snowing,” they cheered.

In the next few weeks, I fielded many questions about the logistics of toys traveling halfway around the world (what if they get broken), the realities of seasons (it won’t snow in July), and the abstract concept of time (will we live there forever).

I didn’t grow up traveling to faraway lands. My parents always chose the roads well traveled. When we left our Southern Connecticut home, we’d drive up I-95 through New Haven, cross through Rhode Island and land in Southern Massachusetts to “the homeland.” (My mother’s homeland, to be exact.) “Going West” meant a trip to my other grandparents, up I-91, through Hartford, landing in Springfield. Once a year we’d make our way up the familiar eastern route out to the elbow of Massachusetts on Cape Cod.

My parents always kept several maps in our coffee table drawers. None of these tangled roads reached further than the New England states. Even then, I could find our usual spots by the way the map folded, almost instinctively, into well-worn creases. Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine made up the untouched, barren abyss of places we might go.

I liked to unfold the maps and spread them out on the floor. I’d trace my finger along the snaking highways and byways and guess how long it might take to cross each state border all the way to the grey of Canada. I liked to read the names of towns I’d never visit. The web of lines, colors and various symbols felt like a secret key, even if I had no idea what it might open.

For almost the entirety of their lives, my kids had lived in Asia. My husband and I struggled to know when was the right time to tell them we would be moving. I spent weeks worrying how to answer questions about when they might see their friends again, what their new school would be like and what would happen to our Singapore home. Those questions never came. Instead, I packed my unspoken worries and the memories my kids were too little to carry.

We settled back in Connecticut like leaves drifting through an autumn sky. We landed softly but I was unsure if we’d till back into the soil or blow away to another season.

We found a preschool for my youngest that appealed to my belief that preschool shouldn’t be much like school. They placed a heavy emphasis on nature so when we were invited to an outdoor ceremony for the Winter Solstice, I wasn’t surprised.

While the kids prepared inside, the parents stood in two parallel lines. We stretched our arms overhead and joined them with the hands across the aisle to make a human tunnel. Barren trees clawed into the dusk.

Our children emerged from the glow at the entryway to the school, each carrying lit lanterns. They followed a path around the yard, illuminated by even more lanterns, crunching their way through leaves and under our arms. The teachers recited poems.

It was all deeply symbolic I’m sure — darkness, lightness, and the slumber of life in the coming winter — but I was too focused on the cold air and impending inferno. The early winter chill rippled down my spine into my limbs while candle flames bounced. I seemed to be the only one ready to shout, “Four year olds walking with fire?! We’re all going to go up in a blaze of tragic irony!” We didn’t.

Our parting gift was a bulb, to be planted as a reminder of life that returns in Spring. As we walked hand in hand to the car, my boy and I talked about planting it. I thought we might put it in the pot that boasted a wig of disintegrating mums.

I intended to, but the bulb sat, slowly dying on our kitchen sill, as good intentions are wont to do. For a while, I thought the hearty bulb might still blossom even after all the weeks that passed. Then one day, in a rare fit of Marie Kondo organizing, I rolled the bulb, slightly brown with peeling skin, around my palm. Did it bring me joy? It did not.

My son has never asked about it. If this should bring me comforting reassurance or a questionable lack of attachment, I am not certain. At 4 years old, how can I know if a more nomadic life will suit my son or if he’ll want to feel rooted.

By all measures, a nomadic life is not one that should appeal to me.

“China? Who the hell would want to go to China?” My grandfather’s voice echoed from behind his newspaper.

My mother’s friend was planning a once in a lifetime trip to China. I think what followed was a conversation about how long, expensive, useless, tiring, inconvenient such a trip would be. What if you couldn’t communicate? What if you didn’t like the food? What if you got lost?

Even though she had not lived in Massachusetts for decades, in her distinct Boston accent, she often talked of places outside of the greater Boston area as foreign lands. There was the dismay of ordering a lobster roll only to have it appear warm and buttered, the wonder of touring Pennsylvania Dutch country or the confusion when asking if someone was going “down Maine.” Whether her attachment was more for old New England or for a bygone era, I was never really sure. The two seemed to easily conflated for her.

My grandmother instilled much of this kind of nostalgic thinking. As a young girl, my grandmother had outlived all her siblings and became an unplanned only child. As a result she was completely devoted to her parents. Whether she felt grateful or burdened or some combination of both, she never said. For me, this legacy manifest into a deep attachment to staying close to home. The measure between love for family was directly proportional to distance one strayed from home. Closeness begets closeness.

These are the legends I use to navigate the map of my family’s history.

My parents are delighted to have us living back in Connecticut. We visit them on a Saturday morning. They live a few towns away, in the same house where I grew up.

My eldest loves that our regular FaceTime calls have been replaced with regular visits to their house. He asks if we can move into their neighborhood. He loves riding his bike up and down our winding driveway and running outside in our suburban playground. When prodded he says that he misses living in Asia, but without saying it, I know he is happy here. I know it in the same way I know, without him saying, he still fears dark rooms and too much attention.

Sitting in my parent’s living room, I’m struck by how small this house I know so well feels. The rocking chair I once wasn’t able to rock with my feet, the shelves that once seemed so high, the room itself feels like a miniature version of where I grew up. Im unable to settle snuggly here.

My kids find the familiar yellow Lego carrying case. It clicks open to reveal a sea of battered mini bricks. These relics from the past dot my parent’s raised ranch. “You played with these when you were little?” I can’t tell if my son is more surprised that I was little, or that we have the same toys. “I wish we had these flowers in our Lego cases,” he whines. I remember building miniature houses, making sure the colors were evenly matched and the windows were symmetrical. The flowers were always the last detail.

My parents planted. I flew.

I was 20 when I first traveled abroad to France. While most of my peers were in their junior year, I was a senior. Shy and uncertain, I had listened to friends talk about their study abroad trips in a way that made me feel not only like I could do it, but like I had to do it. It was the first time I’d associated risk with reward.

My parents drove me to Newark airport. We wandered the international departure gate and filled the mindless noise with more noise. We used small words to try to quell big emotions. I’d never been that far from home. On the wings of a Boeing 767, I flew into the cloudy unknown.

“You are very quiet,” my host father said at dinner one nights, “do you not like it here?” My French was not good enough to explain that he was right, and he was wrong.

I walked barefoot in the cool grass of a Parisian park, saw a bullet hole in the wall of a cement building in East Berlin, and breathed the thick air in the Sistine Chapel feeling that though billions of molecules separated me and Michelangelo, we are all connected.

I wrote letters to my parents and grandparents. Partly I wanted to assure them that flying across the ocean hadn’t severed any familial ties. Partly I wanted them to know It was precisely because I had gotten lost, had trouble communicating and sometimes didn’t love the food that made me love the experience.

Distance hadn’t pulled me away, it helped to give me perspective so that I could see myself more clearly. Six months later, I flew back feeling like home is everywhere and nowhere.

I met my parents at the arrival gate amid halls decked in holiday greens and reds. “You look different,” my mom said. I was 21 and just beginning to understand traveling was an inevitable character trait. I’m sure I shrugged sheepishly though I wish I had responded, “so do you.” It was the first time I’d see my parents as the North Star.

Traveling hadn’t made me feel lost, it made me feel found.

We’re entering the Spring thaw — one last icy cool breath in before a warm exhale out. There will be no sturdy stems sprouting from buried buds in our pots (still prickly with dead stems). Instead, in this seasonal shift, new worries sprout. I worry I would have killed the bud from that December ceremony regardless, but I didn’t even give it a chance. I worry that my reluctance to plant it is a not-so-subtle metaphor. I worry that my oldest son will never want to leave. I worry that I will never want to stay. I worry we might not share the same view of the world.

And yet the earth softens, like it’s made to do.

It is in the softness of Spring that I watch my son playing on a grassy field with his friends. We are at a birthday party. The host gives us a small gift to thank us for coming. My son holds it up. It looks like a plant without soil. It is tagged with instructions on how to care for an “air plant.” The instructions are minimal: once a week submerge in water for 15 minutes.

It’s growing long and sturdy, with leaves like thick blades of grass. It currently sits in a small jar where the skinny green fingers reach upward.

I think back to that December ceremony. I can still feel the way my son’s tiny fingers intertwined with mine, rooting us together with the North Star shining above.

Kathleen Siddell is a teacher and writer living (for now) in Connecticut. She and her family have returned from Asia but are feeling ready for the next adventure. You can find her drowning in the Twitterverse @kathleensiddell.

We are proud to have founded the Aleksander Fund. To learn more or to donate please click here. To sign up for On being Human Tuscany Sep 5-18, 2018 please email jenniferpastiloffyoga@gmail.com.

 

Join Jen at her On Being Human workshop in upcoming cities such as NYC, Ojai, Tampa, Ft Worth and more by clicking the image above.

 

Join Jen at Kripalu in The Berkshires of Massachusetts for her annual On Being Human retreat there by clicking the picture above. March 2-4, 2018.

 

Family, Guest Posts, Home

I’m Not from Here

October 23, 2016
home

By April Vazquez

I can’t tell if my husband’s unmarried cousins are lesbians.  Three or four of them put pictures of themselves on Facebook with other girls, faces pressed together, with posts about their undying love.  But in this country, where women friends hold hands in public and dance together at parties, I’m not sure what it means.

I’m the only one angry that the house is in a state of perpetual dust and chaos because the builder, Raúl, doesn’t work on Mondays…  or other days, sporadically and without notice.

I can’t understand why to get residency here I’m required to provide a letter from the Consulate verifying my citizenship when, at this very moment, the Immigration official making the request is holding my United States passport in his hands.

I can’t make out why my two-year-old’s shoe was stolen within five minutes of falling out of the stroller outside the the park.  I know the shoe was stolen because when I went back for it, the lady who sells food there told me she saw another woman pick it up, but what I don’t understand is why, what she thought she could do with it.  Or is the impulse not to let anything–anything–go to waste so strong that it extends even to one tiny shoe? Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Home

Home

August 18, 2016
home

By Pam Munter

It takes some planning to get into the correct lane for the right turn off busy Sunset Boulevard to Hartzell Street in Pacific Palisades but I’ve been doing it since I was 16 so it’s automatic for me – even now. Hartzell is one of the “alphabet streets,” part of a grid developed early in the history of the Palisades, all of which were named after the founding Protestant missionaries.

I haven’t lived there in more than a half century. But whenever I’m in the area, I feel an irresistible cosmic pull to make the pilgrimage to the house where so much of my childhood and adolescence unfolded, the repository of my earliest self. Now when I drive the four blocks up Hartzell to the house, I hardly recognize the street. Almost all the cute little bungalows in this formerly working class neighborhood have been converted into multi-story McMansions. Luxury cars are parked on both sides of the street, allowing only one car to move through at a time. Gone are most of the prolific eucalyptus trees that proudly stood guard, no longer flooding the area with their rich, herbal redolence.

The house has been updated over the years but many of the external changes were accomplished much earlier by my handyman father – filling in the front porch to create a dining room, adding a large wing with a bedroom, bath, laundry room and garage. Subsequent owners have had a better eye for landscaping, which was an area that never interested my father.

Whenever I make that right turn on to Hartzell, I feel my heart start to race. It unfailingly takes me by surprise. When I was coming home to visit from college, it was due to hungry anticipation for a square meal. After I married and drove cross-country from Nebraska for vacations, it was longed-for relief from the fatigue. But even now I feel that jittery twinge of – what could it be – anxiety? Apparitional dread? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Letting Go, Surviving

California

August 8, 2016
change

*Image courtesy of Tiffany Lucero

By Wendy Wisner

Sometimes California goes drifting through my mind as I’m falling asleep. It looks like it’s detaching itself from the rest of the continent, as I’d always heard it would, the sea levels rising, the land sinking.

Or I see it suspended in air, tilting back and forth, the way it did during the ’89 earthquake, my mother and sister in the living room, me standing in the doorway, the chandelier slowly swaying.

I think I want it to erode, break up and get washed away.

Or I want it never to have existed.

Mostly, I want it to come back to me. I want it to fill the odd-shaped hole in my gut that started opening all those years ago when my father left us—when he left us for California. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Life, memories

Departures

March 18, 2016
memories

By Andrew Bertaina

The world cares little for our departures. It spins and spins in the dark unaware that we are even here, spinning in that same dark. We are left to construct our own signs then, spin our own yarns about the moments that have marked us. We tell ourselves stories about first loves, parents, home, in order to give our lives structure, a foundation on which to build the architecture of the self. The meaning of our departures comes in hindsight, a postscript, leaving is not the car going down the driveway, the hand waving goodbye, it is considering, days, months, years later, what the leaving meant, trying to remember if you held your hand against the cold glass and what it meant that your mother didn’t cry. This essay is already a failure, an attempt to send myself a postcard from the future. I doubt I’ll have the sense to read it.

The last summer I spent in Chico, CA before leaving home was like any other: blazingly, soul-scorchingly, hot. It was the sort of heat about which people out east say, “It’s a dry heat though,” which is why I dislike almost everyone out east. The observation is made no less obnoxious by its veracity. The summer days in Washington D.C. are sauna-like, something to be endured, like watching golf on television. These relentless days always leave me longing for the cool California nights of my youth—crickets chirping and a light breeze prickling night’s skin.

Departing for college was the first of many adult severances. It felt like a pin prick at the time, an inevitable retracing of the steps taken by siblings and friends. They returned in the summers, strangers in a familiar land, stopping for a visit with the natives before returning to their new home. And yet, as the years have passed and college friendships and memories have faded, I realize that leaving Chico was a severance, an end to the era of a childhood and a farewell to my home, and to the idea of any place being home. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

A Room Of My Own

October 28, 2015

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

The summer after graduate school, I accepted a job as a copywriter at a well known publishing firm. I had been recruited and hired by a woman named Serena, a blonde, cooly professional woman, who praised my work lavishly. I loved my job. But two months later, Serena was inexplicably fired. They replaced her with a shrill, sarcastic woman named Crystal, who’d once worked for – and been fired by – Serena, and so she took an instant dislike to anyone Serena had hired. Especially me. I believed my work was good; I was dilligent, always met deadlines, and the editors consistently praised me. Yet each week Crystal would summon me to her office, and catalog what she labeled as my professional failings. Some nights, weary and ready to weep, I would finally pry myself from the vise-hold of that office, and Crystal would look pointedly at the clock. “Running out early again?” she would say.

I couldn’t wait to get home. My cat would meow plaintively as soon as she heard my key in the door. Some nights, when I was just too tired to cook dinner, I’d go to the freezer, shave off a slice of frozen Sarah Lee chocolate cake, sit by the window and listen to a scratchy recording of  Dvorak’s New World Symphony. I was dismal that winter. I had just lost my beloved Aunt Jeanette, and Dvorak’s sonorous second movement, a beautifully melancholy melody based on an old spiritual called “Going Home,” spoke to my sadness. Continue Reading…

Binders, death, Guest Posts

Gone To Feed The Roses

May 31, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Katherine Vaz

The home I share with Christopher Cerf, on Gerard Drive in Springs, was not spared Hurricane Sandy.  We were residing in our main residence in New York City when the water rose over the spindly, mile-and-a-half long cape bounded by Gardiners Bay and Accabonac Harbor.  Police cars blocked the entrance to Gerard, we read in the Times.  It was not safe to enter.

Aerial views made the spit of land look like the Loch Ness Monster surfacing—humps of spine, the creature mostly submerged.  A friend reported that our yard and patio were ravaged, but our house was unharmed.  After a spell came the news that my eighty-seven-year-old father had collapsed in northern California.  A day later, for the first time, I entered my childhood home without him greeting me with a blessing and kiss.  Content with his history books, his painting and gardening, he was a homebody; I sensed the vacancy as a prelude to loss.  At Eden Hospital, he cried out my name when he saw me, the daughter from far away. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, love, Marriage

Home

April 3, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Maia Morgan.

Summer was over, and my apartment was still a maze of boxes. My bed frame leaned against a wall; I slept on the mattress on the floor. I hadn’t figured out how to turn on the oven. I ate dinner in front of the TV, (read: ice cream straight from the carton). This wasn’t how I’d pictured things when I’d envisioned a place of my own.

I’d been tired of my surly landlord. Of living with a roommate whose girlfriend insisted on sneaking plug-in air fresheners into every room until our apartment smelled like a taxicab. It was time for me to strike out on my own. At thirty-four, I was officially in my mid-thirties, and I had certain ideas about what that meant: a husband, a baby, a house. But there was no sign of a relationship on the horizon. I didn’t have a fancy job. I decided at the very least I should have my own apartment. So I threw myself into the search, daydreaming about paint colors and estate sales.

I found a sunny, third floor one bedroom, slightly rough around the edges but with beautiful bones, not too far west for me to walk my dog to the lake. Yes, it was mere blocks from the northernmost boundary of the city and yes, it was in a very residential area with no cafés or bookstores and yes, I’d probably have to get in my car if I wanted to go anywhere, but still, it would be mine. I’d write there and have dinner parties and a container garden on the roof. That spring I sat in an office at Chicago Title and Trust, signing papers and trying to absorb it all: escrow, closing costs, title insurance. Finally the seller handed me the keys, and the ground dropped away. In the midst of attaining this joyful milestone, it dawned on me that I was really alone.

I didn’t want to want a boyfriend, let alone a husband. I wanted to be all, a woman needs a man like a fish, bicycle, blahblahblah. But I wasn’t. And I did. It bothered me. I mistrusted it like I mistrusted wanting to be model thin–something suburban girls learn early on they’re supposed to want. I didn’t idealize marriage. I didn’t think it was the answer to all my problems. And though I scoffed at romantic comedies, I secretly longed for someone to forsake all others and choose me. And buying a condo suddenly brought it all home. I was on my own. This was life. It was happening now. It wasn’t about to start. I was in the thick of it. And I was alone.

When I was thirteen, my mother woke my sisters and me up before dawn to watch coverage of Charles’ and Diana’s wedding. We sat on the pastel plaid sofa and matching loveseat in our family room and watched Lady Diana arrive at St. Paul’s in a gleaming, horse-drawn coach.

“It’s just like Cinderella,” my mother exclaimed.

“Really?” I said, “Did mice sew her dress? Do birds land on her finger and sing?”

“That’s the ‘feed the birds’ cathedral from Mary Poppins,” my mother said. “Do you remember? Tuppence a bag. I so wanted to take you girls to Europe when you were little.”

“Why didn’t you?” I asked her.

“Your father nixed the idea,” my mother said. “Like everything else.”

Lady Di peeked from beneath a filmy, white veil pinned with a glittering tiara and slowly ascended the red-carpeted steps smoothing her taffeta explosion of a skirt while the crowd cheered and waved from across the street.

As the Trumpet Voluntary began and Diana took her first steps down the aisle, tears streamed down my mother’s face.

“Such beautiful flowers in the little girls’ hair,” she exclaimed. She turned to my sister who had jelly on her cheek and at least three days worth of knots in her hair. “Wouldn’t you like to wear a dress like that, Sam?” Then, catching sight of Prince Charles, my mother cried, “Oh, does he see her? Do you think he sees her?”

It’s a moment, I admit, I look for at a wedding–the moment the groom first sees the bride. I want to catch that instant of revelation. I want the groom to be overcome with emotion. I want him to cry. At one of the first weddings I went to as an adult, a few years after college, the groom was beside himself, reading e.e. cummings with tears streaming down his face whereas the bride was almost alarmingly stoic, and it was actually a bit like, uh oh, but I guess everyone handles their emotions differently, and those friends are still married with two kids, so who knows?

I did love Diana’s dress, being enamored of the flounced Laura Ashley look popular at the time. In the footage shot inside the cathedral you could hear the muffled sound of the crowd lining the street cheering when Charles and Diana said, “I will.” Even during the long singing parts when we went to get refills on our Swiss Miss, my mother remained, entranced by the beauty of St. Paul’s and the boys’ choir’s heavenly voices. First Corinthians 13. Love suffereth long and is kind. My mother marveled at how wonderfully Lady Sarah Armstrong Jones coped with Diana’s magnificent train, and praised the decorum of the other young attendants in their old-fashioned naval uniforms and ivory dresses with butter colored sashes. A little after eight a.m. Diana kissed Prince Charles on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, my sisters and I licked mini marshmallow foam from our cocoa mugs and my mother wept. She cried, she said, because it was beautiful and because she always cried at weddings. Continue Reading…