We’re home. And reflections on love. 34 of 100

A couple of days ago, I cashed in on one of my fantasies: to spend some uninterrupted hours alone while James is awake. It sounds kind of simple, but believe me, it’s a big deal.

First, I took a very very long walk on the beach. Then I ate lunch and read my book. I packed up my laptop, my book, a towel and wrote these words at this deserted tourquoise pool, ringed with palm trees, overlooking a fishing pier and the bright blue harbour. A little green lizard strolled out of a bush in front of me and I could hear the waves.

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Later, I took a long walk with an old friend, also a new momma. Every year, we take this walk and catch up. It’s crazy to think about how many years it covers now – boyfriends and jobs have come and gone. Our wedding days. And now we have two little boys – just three months apart.

Now we are back. It felt so good to wake up next to Dan today.

Though I’m going to miss my mom and dad’s faces popping out of their bedroom in the morning and James’s big hello smile to them. I’ll miss being able to take a shower whenever I want, brush my teeth before 11 a.m. and other hands to help with laundry and cooking. (Ok, I’ve been living in a bit of a dreamworld.)

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But it was time to come home. We missed Dan terribly. And I have to say the frosty nip in the air this morning felt welcome (remind me that I said this when it’s snowing in April) – as much as I complain about the cold, I actually sort of love it. There’s something so familiar and cozy about snuggling in.

These weeks I’ve been thinking about how seeing my parents with James and mothering James are the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing my own babyhood. Their songs, their faces, their pure bliss in being with James.

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Our morning pilgrimage to the baby swing

I guess you realize how lucky you are if you were loved. If you are loved.

Because you see that love is the real food. Of course James needs to eat and sleep and poop, but what he really needs is love. It nourishes him in the most vital way.

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Love is truest life blood.

At dinner the other night, my dad said, “The time you are in right now – there is nothing better.”

All day I had been thinking about that – how I am acutely aware that I’m inhabiting and living a time that I will long for. It has the magic sparkle of a beginning.

Thanksgiving (went too fast) – 33 of 100

I’m writing now again on the porch in Florida. Dan has come and gone. My brother, sister and brother-in-law have all come and gone. I’m sitting here wondering how one week could possibly go so fast. How a house bouncing with voices just 24 hours ago, is suddenly so very quiet.

Every year, before our annual pilgrimage to Boca Grande for Thanksgiving, I start having vivid fantasies about being here: sand between my toes, stringy salt-water hair, green everything, letting the Gulf wrap itself around my ankles, skin smelling of chlorine and sunscreen.

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But what I loved this year the most- and I guess what I love every year – is the particular chaos that erupts from having all of us under one roof again.

We move like this globular organism – someone packing towels, someone making lunch and packing the cooler, someone calling out “can you grab the sunscreen?!”, someone getting the bocce set, beach chairs, etc. loading it all onto a golf cart and assembling again at the beach, the pool, the boat. Then, later at the dinner table with glasses of chardonnay.

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James naps. We sit around. Talk about real estate and plan the day.

We’ve spent nearly every Thanksgiving here – with maybe four or five exceptions in 35 years. Dan and Laurent – my brother-in-law- attached themselves to the tradition as if they have always been here. We’ve all grown to treasure this week. It’s boisterous and busy. Sometimes we push each other’s buttons, but we all belong here. (It’s a nice feeling – to belong somewhere.)

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Uncle Charlie

I love my family. I even love – or maybe especially love – our flaws. As much as we grow up and change, we are also the same. And then there’s the fact that they’re the only ones who have seen the entire journey of your life.

I’m so grateful for this long tradition – for the opportunity and the ability to return to this place and this crazy, fun, loving bunch.

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Uncle Laurent and Auntie Maddy – also Master Bruce Wayne.

I can only hope that someday James will want to return to us – to bounce around for a day or days – to laugh – and gather around a dinner table to tell us about the life we helped him begin.

Minnesota Roots – 18 of 100

I got lucky this year – I got to go to Minnesota twice in one summer. That’s a rarity. Some years, I don’t get to go at all.

There’s no place in the world that has ever felt the way Minnesota feels to me. Because I spent the first 18 years of my life there – it is like my native language. No matter how long I am gone, the roads run through my memory like a song I didn’t even realize I knew the words to. Not to say it’s a feeling without complication or that there aren’t many other places that call up emotion – only that Minnesota is the one place with this feeling. After all of these years, I still call Minnesota home.

Anyway, it was good to be back.

There are so many familiar places – places filled with memories and stories.

Dan, James and I spent a week up my family’s cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior.

DSCF3739 My great great great grandfather, Joseph R. Kingman and a bunch of buddies bought this land back in the 1920’s. I’m sure they all imagined their grandchildren and their great grandchildren enjoying this place- but I wonder if they fathomed the sixth generation (James) walking the trails that they built.

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We’ve been going to Encampment as long as I can remember and there’s a picture of me at about one or two years old in the clawfoot tub.

In a way, our family history is chronicled in the guest books. My grandfather wrote about his solo journeys- splitting wood and hiking the trails. There are marriages, births, deaths.

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It was magical to be there with James. Long mornings with too much coffee, afternoon hikes with him in the carrier. Him, grabbing at rocks on the beach and trying to put them in his mouth. Sitting by the fire. Loading him into the tub for a picture.

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Back in Minneapolis, Mom, Dad, Dan James and I went to Lakewood Cemetery where both of my grandfathers are buried. You can track my mom’s side of the family back to the Skiles family, for whom I’m named – the Eastmans, the Woodwards, the Welles, the Kingmans.

My dad’s dad, Don Hornig, is buried there too. We stood under a tree by his grave and read prayer.

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Grandpa and Grandma Hornig began buying apartment buildings decades ago. It’s become a pretty big thing. They started with nothing. As a family, we drove around to look at the buildings. What a story, I thought. What a legacy.

What I’m getting at is that I have roots in Minnesota. Long ones.

And above all the places and the history are the people: our family.

My cousin Meghan – we’re six days apart, grew up down the street from each other, and have always been the best of friends. Getting our little beans together – well, that was the best. And the late night at her house drinking wine with her and her husband – that was the best too.

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With Meghan, Gunnar and Harriet

And my sister and her husband coming over for dinner. And my brother stopping by to hold James. And my aunt and uncle and cousins coming over to say hello. And visiting my two grandmothers – James’ great grandmothers. It’s popping in and out and everyone being close.

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My beautiful sister Maddy and her hubby, Laurent

And, of course, my parents. My parents who love us to the ends of our tippy toes. Who can’t squeeze James enough times in one day.

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James and Nana

When Dan and I were doing long distance, I used to crave everyday moments with him. Just waking up on a weekday and having coffee before work – that kind of thing. I find myself craving that with my parents now. Like them coming over for a little while just to play with James or take him to the pool or for a walk around the garden.

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Jimbo’s garden

You want to know something funny? Whenever I watch comedies about dysfunctional families – like Arrested Development or Transparent – I wish I lived near my family. Imperfect as we all are, as much as we drive each other totally nuts and gripe about each other – there’s nothing like family. There just isn’t. We have so much fun together. We have quirks and share memories, know how to push each other’s buttons and make each other laugh.

Anyway, we’ve all been spoiled rotten by all this time together this summer.

I read a great article a while back in the New York Times that children who know their family history do better. “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

My parents have done an incredible job of keeping our family history alive–the good and the bad. They’ve been honest. I hope to do the same for James. Even if we never live there, I hope James feels connected to Minnesota – because he is.

I hope is some place in this world for him that calls up memory and comfort and the love and wonder of childhood.

Fishing, Ontario and family- 15 of 100

In Ontario, we woke up at the crack of dawn (nothing new, James was getting up before 6 the entire trip), to go fishing. Dan’s brother, Kevin, his mom, Belle, Dan, James and I.

We grabbed extra coffees at Tim Horton’s. We boarded a big boat and motored out onto Georgian Bay. Dan and his brothers love to fish, and though I haven’t fully caught the bug myself, I love being included and sharing this pastime with the boys – I think Belle felt the same way.

James slept in the Ergo Baby while Belle reeled in a sizeable lake trout. She was giddy. “Oh my gosh!” she kept exclaiming. “This really is fun!”

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James and I were next. He was still sleeping when the line buzzed and I started reeling. Belle was right: it was fun. Dan climbed up to the top deck and started snapping pictures of me, bent rod in hand, baby strapped to my chest.

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“I’m so proud of you right now!” he called down.

James woke up halfway through, in time to see our beautiful rainbow trout hit the deck. I felt awesome – like a total badass.

I’ll be the first to admit that the first few months of motherhood were hard and scary for me. I was more nervous than I thought I would be – given everything I knew about myself before James was born. But the last few months – I’m sure given a combination of more sleep, settling into the role, James growing just enough – have been fun, and I feel a new kind of confidence that I’ve never felt in my life. I don’t shy away from meeting and connecting with new people – something I’ve always struggled with. Getting on a boat to fish for four hours at 7 a.m. with my little seems like as good idea as any. I’m willing to try anything within reason with the babe (and maybe things just outside of reason – after all, my Euchre nickname is Risky Pants Sky). Sometimes, I feel really beautiful and sexy in this new Momma kind of way. (And sometimes, when I can’t remember if I brushed my teeth or put on deodorant, I feel the exact opposite of beautiful and sexy, but I’m pretty cool with it.) I feel this robust love – like loving James has made my love for everyone in my life grow even bigger and more unconditional.

In any case, landing that trout with James – the biggest fish of the day- I felt all of those good things.

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It started to rain and we all huddled under cover. It was so good to be there with Dan’s family – James scratching his Uncle Kevin’s beard, Belle chatting with the captain about their little town and common people they knew.

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When you don’t live near your family, little moments are big. Things like James’ big cousin Nathan giving him a bath and a bottle;

IMG_2610toasting his sister Rena and brother-in-law Paul on their 15th wedding anniversary,

DSCF3638idle time in the backyard making silly faces with James, making big dinners, playing euchre, drinking wine, sitting on the beach and on.

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Family is complex. We all know this. We love them, they drive us crazy – sometimes, we want them to be one thing but they are who they are – and so are we. Now that I have a kid, I can only hope he forgives and accepts me for who I am some day. Sometimes I stilll can’t believe I am someone’s mom – I’m going to drive him totally nuts someday! For now, while I can, I will kiss him 10,000 times day or more, tickle his soft baby feet, take him on as many adventures as possible and hold him as close and long as he’ll let me.

Camping with baby – 8 of 100

Well, we did it. We went camping with our three month old. I feel like we cheated a little bit. I mean, we did cheat a little bit. Our friends Cindy and Roger just bought a very posh camper trailer and they let our family of three sleep in it for two nights. So I guess we dipped our toes into camping, which was the perfect way to start.

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Dan with the pimp trailer behind him.

As a new parent, I am still wrestling with how to continue doing the things we love while making sure that James gets what he needs (namely sleep) and is a happy baby. What this looks like so far is booking trips and camping adventures and crossing my fingers that things will fall into place. Right now, James needs a lot of naps. And by a lot I mean he needs to sleep almost every other hour. Which means I spend about half my day putting him down to sleep. Eventually, he’ll fall into a schedule, but until then, I have to watch for his little yawns and try and whisk him into the nursery before he devolves into a cranky crying mess. If I were to stick around to accommodate this napping routine, I would be able to leave the house for a few half hour spurts a day– which would in turn drive me completely nuts.

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James getting acquainted with camping.

So when Cindy and Roger invited us to camp, I felt apprehensive but I also knew we had to say yes. I made Dan promise that if it all went south on Friday night, we’d abandon ship and head home to recover on Saturday. But all did not go south on Friday. Yes, it took an hour of crying and rocking to get him down on Friday night, but then he slept pretty well (except for that time he was awake from 5 to 6 a.m., but it’s all a distant memory now).

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Exploring.

On Saturday, at 7 a.m., I zipped James into his soft white bear suit and brewed coffee while Dan built a fire. Then the three of us sat around the fire together. And of course everything I love about camping was all around me–the chilly mountain air, the smell of evergreen trees and campfire, a perfect cup of coffee, being outside at such an early hour. All of it. James seemed pretty happy about it too.

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The best.

Later, we hiked to Rawson Lake and James napped in the baby carrier while we tramped through some lingering snow. He woke for our lunch and then fell back asleep for the hike down. IMG_2139 Hikin.

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Red wine and kebabs on over the fire – what could be better?

That night, he fell right asleep at 7 and I drank a little too much wine around the fire because it was my birthday and why not? Did it suck waking up for his little 5-6 a.m. stint again? Yes. Was I utterly exhausted on Monday and still on Tuesday? Yes, yes I was. But you know what? We all came out ok and it was totally worth it and awesome! Honestly, the worst part of the whole thing was the drive, during which he wailed. But we survived that too and I think James has forgiven us. I mean, he hasn’t run away or anything like that. DSCF3378 Like the travel thing, I think you just have to go for it and see what happens. I’m still nervous about the camping trips we have planned for this summer. All my books are telling me that my baby is becoming less portable. That he will only sleep well in his own crib after four months of age. They tell me taking trips will ruin any and all of the sleep progress we make (which does not bode well for the three week trip we have planned in July). It’s not that I don’t believe them- but are we really supposed to stick around the house until he’s done napping at five years old or something? Maybe I will eat these words later. I might. But I want my son to see the world. I want him to have a sense of wonder and the wide world. I want him to sit under trees, beside lakes, beneath mountains and the sun. DSCF3387 I want him to be well rested and happy too. So maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle. We’ll see, my friends.

Aunt Rocel and loving hard – 2 of 100

Yesterday was my Aunt Rocel‘s memorial service. She died on April 10 of ovarian cancer. She was 58 years old.

Rocel was one of those people whose beauty took you by surprise. She was kind, gentle and humble, generous and loving–one of those people who made you want to be a better person.

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Me and Rocel, Christmas 2013

I write this with little baby James sleeping in a sling against my chest. (I think he’s napping extra long to let me finish this post.) I am thinking about birth and death and how we are all hovering somewhere in between.

In my twenties I thought a lot about living hard. You know that Jack Kerouac quote:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

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I related to that.

But lately, I’ve been rather mad for the commonplace things. The way James stretches like a boxer when he wakes up. My mom texting me every day “need daily James picture please”. My dad calling to scold me when I forget to include him on said daily James picture text. Walking downtown with James to meet Dan for lunch on this beautiful sunny spring day.

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I’ve been thinking more about loving hard than living hard.

I remember talking to Rocel soon after she was diagnosed with cancer and going through her first round of treatment. She told me how through the terribleness of it all–the diagnosis, the treatment–she and her husband, my Uncle David, had uncovered a new layer in the marriage. How they had become so much closer. I remember how she told me how much it meant to her that he would just let her cry.

I was engaged to marry Dan at the time. There was so much we didn’t know. (There’s so much we still don’t know!) I thought about how we would have find faith and strength in struggle — how we would have find each other.

Rocel passed away while I was in Florida with Dan and James, my parents, and my brother and sister in law. We went to the beach the morning after she died and it was so beautiful. James slept on my chest and then Dan’s and then my mom’s and then dad’s. The ocean was crazy turquoise blue and that perfect chilly but warm temperature. What can you do in a place like that, on a day like that, but hold on as tightly you as you can to the time you have with the people you love?IMG_1790 So that’s how I will honor her today and every day. By seeking out faith in the struggle and loving as hard as my little heart can bear.

Maddy getting married in Boca Grande

Boca Grande, Florida. It’s a place most people have never heard of but that I consider a second home. On the Gulf Coast, it’s seven miles long with one long road running the length of it. I want to tell you how awesome it is but I also want to keep it a secret…to bob in the Gulf of Mexico…

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to walk on the beach…

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to watch the sun set

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to grab an iced coffee in the morning and then shuffle around town…to eat only seafood and yellow rice and beans… and watch for sharks and dolphins and manatees and pelicans…DSCF1199  to fish with these silly boys.DSCF1201My sister got married. My little sister! DSCF1391It’s surreal how time goes by. Maybe that is why we take pictures, to try to grab onto the moment. DSCF1374

There was champagne and there were toasts…and there were all the in between moments. My beautiful momma and dapper dad:

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I had been looking forward to this trip for so long. I can’t believe it’s over. I can’t believe my sister is married. There’s all this bittersweet-ness wrapped up it in all that I can’t quite explain. There’s more that I want to say. About beginnings, about time, about being with the people that you love the very most in one place, about love and marriage, about the places that hold your story. But sometimes, a picture is enough.

DSCF1473Congratulations Maddy and Laurent! I love you two so much.