The Big E, and Reading About Twins

Babywearing at the Big E If you want a fried martini, a Philly cheesesteak, maple cotton candy, apple crisp and fresh cranberry juice all in one place, the Eastern States Exposition is the answer. You’ll also find hot tub displays, vendors selling magical steam cleaners, kids showing off their 4-H projects, sheep being sheared, chicks hatching from eggs, and sideshows featuring miniature horses and rescued bears–$1 per person to take a peek.

When we went to the Big E last year, I was 30 weeks pregnant with the twins. I basically stopped to sit and rest 10 minutes for every 15 that I walked. This year, I had one baby strapped to my front and a backpack with baby supplies on the back, while Manny carried the other twin.

So yesterday, the most frustrating part of the adventure wasn’t walking. It was trying to eat funnel cake while wearing a squirmy, greedy toddler on my front. I’m just going to let you try to imagine that one.

We watched a Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off, wandered through the huge buildings representing each state’s representative offerings (always including a wide array of maple products), and caught Marcus Gras beads thrown from a parade float drawn by Clydesdale horses.

The entire experience felt a little absurd.

But cool autumn breezes, babies’ wonder as they ogled the turns of the Ferris wheel, and the mingling aromas (well, some of them) made it worth the expedition.

Reading has taken such a backburner over the last year for obvious reasons. But a group of twin mamas I know on Facebook decided to start a book club, and the first book was something I probably wouldn’t have chosen on my own.

Entwined is a memoir about fraternal friends, one of whom had Down syndrome, that were separated as young children when the parents sent the Down syndrome child to live in a state institution. That twin later went on to become a world-recognized fiber artist. The memoir is written by Judy, the sister that stayed at home, and follows both their story as it twists apart and then back together again later in life.

It was interesting to read about the incredibly unique connection the girls shared as twins. They communicated (rather well!) without needing words, which is handy, since Judy was completely nonverbal.

The story was both gripping and infuriating. Repeatedly I found myself thinking, How many horrible things can possibly happen to one person? The attitude toward children–especially special needs children–in the 50’s and 60’s was depressing at best, and these kids’ parents seemed particularly unable (unwillinrg?) to deal with the fact that they had procreated, and that one of their kids was unique.

But Joyce, the author of the book, was a bit infuriating, too. Sometimes she seemed rather oblivious (it took her 35 years to start thinking about taking her sister out of the institution) and dramatic (going to a “silence retreat” where a dozen women lived together for a week without saying a word). Still, the pieces of the picture she paints with words are so vivid that about two chapters in I felt like I was one of the kids playing in the front yard with them.

All in all, Entwined was definitely worth the read. Now I’m slowly reading Misspelled Paradise: A Year in a Reinvented Colombia, mostly because I’ll be in Colombia myself in a couple of weeks. So far, the account of a recent English grad going to teach at tiny a school on a little coastal island has many similarities to my own experience teaching in Saipan. It also makes me thankful I’m going to Colombia to be a tourist, not a teacher.

Remembering 9/11: A clarification 

Some very good, very honest friends have basically told me that this morning’s post came across all wrong. Upon a second (okay, more like an eighth) reading, I see it. I totally sound like a snobbish jerk trying to tell people how they should feel about a national tragedy. 

That was pretty much the opposite of what I intended. 

What I wanted was to call myself to task as much as (actually, more than) anyone else for failing to care as much as I should. 

I wanted to express frustration at the trend of using Facebook as a sort of check-box for emotions and memories. Random Facebook friend’s birthday? Write on their wall. Check. Terrorist attack overseas? Express outrage and state that you “stand with” said country. Check. September 11th? Post something patriotic. Check. And then stop thinking about it. 

I know that most, if not all, of today’s 9/11 posts are totally sincere. And I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t post about it. Or talk about it. Or remember. 

Memories make us who we are. They wrap around the fibers of our being and change the way we think and act and love. But it can be too easy to pack away the uncomfortable memories in exchange for acting like we think we should. Checking a box. 

If it takes Facebook to remind us, like that old friend’s birthday–if our remembering becomes another box to check and nothing else–if it doesn’t make us live each day like it could be our last and hold our family a little closer or do something (anything!) about it–then we aren’t remembering very well. 

And on more than one occasion, that has been me. 

We don’t remember.

We cling to the memory of 9/11 as though the act of remembering changes something. We look at kids today in shock that they haven’t experienced the earth-rattling sadness of that day like we did. We visit the 9/11 memorial and run our fingers over name after graven name of the people who died because they got out of bed they morning. We hold desperately to a memory–never forget!–as if our memory somehow gives that day meaning or causes it to make sense.

But that day will never make sense. And the kids who are learning about September 11th in history class will never “get it,” any more than I get the assassination of JFK, the attack of Pearl Harbor, or the burning of believers at the stake because they dared translate the Bible into English in the 1300’s.

Our memory might give us wisdom, perspective, and a sense of gravity about life and current world events. It might honor those who died (though that concept has never completely made sense to me). But the minute we put it into a box, turn it into just another social media *thing* that doesn’t touch our actual lives, another proper civic box to check, right alongside French flag profile pictures and memes denigrating our most despised presidential candidate, we’re not honoring that day at all. We’re not remembering.

And as long as we take just a few minutes to remember how sad that day was but don’t change anything about our experience of today, the memory means little. Maybe as much as cooking out on Memorial Day and prefacing the meal with a prayer of thanks for those who died so we’d have the freedom to eat ribs.

Soon 9/11 will become as inconsequential a piece of our history as Pearl Harbor is now to almost everyone in my generation.

As a nation with more memorials and museums than any other, we are incredibly bad at actually remembering much of anything.

If you want to remember, watch the videos of the towers falling. Look at the unsanitized photos the media didn’t publish. Live as though today could be your last–because it could. If you want to remember, do something, whether that means supporting those defending out nation now or volunteering at a soup kitchen because that’s one little thing you can actually do for people who are alive and need help today.

Whatever it means for you, do something. Otherwise you haven’t remembered much.

Visiting Concord, MA

When you get odd opportunities to visit a new place, you take full advantage. Yesterday Manny had an appointment at Hanscom AFB, so I tagged along with the twins and we wandered around Concord a bit afterward.

Somehow I grew to adulthood without realizing what incredible historical and literary significance lives in that little town. Having realized what talent (and, arguably, genius) came from there, I seriously want to go sit under a tree in the Minute Man Historic Park for awhile and hope that whatever inspired Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott seeps into my pores just a little bit.

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Yesterday we just had time to visit the Old North Bridge and the Old Manse before heading back home to get the twins to bed. But I’m definitely planning to go back to visit Orchard House (where Louisa May Alcott lived and wrote and set Little Women), the Wayside (home to Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Sidney, and Nathaniel Hawthorne), Walden pond, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery’s Authors’ Ridge.

The Old North Bridge’s significance is more historical than literary. It was the site where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired when British troops came to confiscate settlers’ firearms.  They met unexpected resistance from the colonists, who occupied the hill overlooking the Old North Bridge and fired on the British troops below.

Later, Emerson wrote the Concord Hymn for a ceremony dedicating the Old North Bridge. Today, a statue of one of the Minutemen and a stanza of the hymn stand directly in front of a replica of the Old North Bridge that crosses the Concord River in the same spot.

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It was a little eerie to stand in this spot and remember reading the Concord Hymn back in grade school, when all that history seemed so far away.

It was also a little surreal to take the short walk to the Old Manse and its peaceful garden plot, and to walk down to the boat dock–just minutes away at a slow walk–that was a popular picnic spot, swimming hole, and boat dock for Emerson, Thoreau, the Alcotts, and many other colonists around the time of the Revolution.

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It’s easy to imagine stepping back into that world of farming, picnics, gardens, poetry, and transcendentalism. It’s hard to imagine wrapping your mind around something like a revolution–and the fact that those settlers were essentially going about their everyday lives–when shots rang out over that peaceful, winding river, and everything changed.

Babies’ First Ren Faire, Poetry, and Very Expensive Boots

Over the long weekend we packed everything up for a quick jaunt to spend a weekend in PA, including a day at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. This was my second time visiting the fair. Manny took me to the fair for the first time a year ago when I was pregnant with the twins. I spent much of this visit relishing the cooler weather and the fact that I’m about 40 lbs. lighter than I was back then.

But my first impressions were generally the same.

Smells: Pine trees, roasting meat, and whiffs of handmade soaps, candles, and leather from the many stands.

Sounds: Laughter, “G’day, Lady” x100, strains of bagpipes and small vocal groups from different directions, the click of stilts and performers assuring guests that the more they drink, the better the performances.

Sights: people wearing tails, very large skirts, chain mail bras, kilts, masquerade masks, and all the staged buildings and vendors set up to look extremely old-world-ish.

100 Great Poems for Boys CoverFrom the stationer, I bought 100 Great Poems for Boysdespite the title. It’s a brilliant collection for kids. Actually, it’s a brilliant collection for me. Since the purchase, I’ve driven Manny crazy with dramatic readings of Poe’s “The Bells,” Christopher Smart’s “For My Cat Jeoffrey,” and Henley’s “Invictus.”

And from Catskill Mountain Moccassins, I bought $700 shoes.

Hopefully this is the first and last episode of Major Purchases That I Might Regret Later you’ll read about on this blog. They aren’t Jimmy Choos or Prada or any other brand that garners that kind of price tag (I mean, seriously, who has those at a ren fair?) But they are custom leather boot-ish footwear made to fit the foot of each individual buyer, trimmed and finished to completely custom specifications. And because Manny has a pair (received his joyfully, in fact, a few days before he proposed four years ago), he insisted I order some. They’ll last for twenty years, he said–and they’re the only shoes you’ll ever have MADE for your foot, so you should indulge.

So after staring at color swatches, conferring with a friend (who had been convinced to order a knee-high pair of her own), and agonizing over all the button choices, I stepped up on a little platform for my feet to be traced, ensconced in a sock, then taped with gaffer’s tape to create a comfortably snug pattern that would form the basis for the soft leather mocc.

The sad part? Even after they’re fully paid (we put a third down for the pattern tracing and design), I still won’t get them for the better part of a year–and by that time I might not even remember what they’re supposed to look like. But what’s done is done, and in the meantime, I’m going to try not to think too much about how many poetry books or skeins of sock yarn I could have bought with that money.

Babies are not my full-time job.

IMG_2097The other day, someone congratulated me on how much stuff I manage to do with the twins.

As if going anywhere with them requires the kind of motivation and perseverance that only marathon-runners or those with a penchant for self-punishment possess.

Have we really set our expectations of life so low that we think it’s all over once we reproduce?

Though it’s very well-intentioned and flattering, this attitude surprises me every time I encounter it. I’m not some kind of superhero for going places with my kids–for traveling with them, for taking them on hikes or long walks on rail trails, for going shopping with them strapped to my body.

Doing things with my babies doesn’t make me a remarkable parent. It makes me a human with a life to live. It has never made sense to stop going to the fun, unnecessary places because I have two small humans who keep getting clingier by the day. On the contrary, those small humans probably need to experience those new, unnecessary places more than I do.

Babies are NOT my full-time job. They are part of the life rich, varied God gave me.

I don’t do things despite babies. I do things because life needs to be lived. Because staring at the same four walls drives all of us crazy. Because sometimes you need fresh air, and not from your own backyard.

When I was pregnant, I swore I wouldn’t let babies stop me from having a life. Obviously they’ve changed the life. And I won’t lie and say that it’s always easy (as if anyone would believe me if I did). Some days, I revel in being able to stay home, wear pajamas all day, and do nothing–except feed hungry mouths and change diapers and cuddle and bounce and dance in the living room, of course.

Other days, I do go on an adventure despite the exhaustion and spend the entire adventure putting out fires (world-class poopy diaper in the middle of a hike. angry crying for no apparent reason in the middle of a shopping mall. forgetting the pacifier/toy/extra bottle). But even on those Murphy’s Law days, it’s still worth the effort.

In general, I choose to let kids continue the adventure rather than replacing it. And that’s one of the best choices I will continue to make.

Which is why the slightly cooler weather is making it more inviting than ever to go take babies to the farmer’s market even if I don’t really need anything. Or to pack everything up and walk six miles on a tree-lined rail trail. Or to book flights to South America with my mom so the babies get to spend their first birthday traveling the world. Or to splash in the little kiddie pool on the back deck.

For me, having kids means having adventures with kids.

How I Met My Sister-In-Law

Jacoby Cousins

Photo credit: Beth Nyhart (bethyherself.wordpress.com)

Last week, we packed up the dog, the babies, and a metric ton of accoutrements and road-tripped it down to Gettysburg to visit the in-laws. This might be stressful if you have any in-laws other than mine. When it comes to in-laws, though, I pretty much won the lottery.

The first time I met Beth, Manny’s sister, I was sleeping on Manny’s sofa in Guam. She had no idea where her brother had picked me up, and I had no idea that she didn’t know I was coming.

It had been a couple of weeks since I met Manny for the first time on the neighboring island of Saipan. He invited me to spend a few days with him and his sister, who was visiting for a few months, on my way back to the states. I switched the first leg of my plane ticket to a few days earlier than planned so I’d have three days in Guam on the way back home. On the day I flew in, he had to go to work. So he picked me up at the airport, dropped me off at his house, disappeared to change into his uniform, and left.

I hadn’t slept the night before. Literally at all. Because the powers that be at the school in Saipan had ruled that no one should have to get up at 4 a.m. to take me to the airport, they had dropped me off at 11 p.m. the night before. I arrived in Guam a cranky mess and passed out on Manny’s sofa before he made it out of the driveway.

When I woke up, Beth (who blogs at Righteous Tree) was sitting on the chair opposite sofa Indian-style with her Macbook in her lap. She peeked over the top of the screen at me a little quizzically. At first glance, I noted that Manny had lots of books–two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full, which endeared him to me at once. I also noticed that Beth was the kind of person who had a Giving Tree decal on the back of her Macbook pro, which rendered her definite Friend Material.

We introduced ourselves and talked about Guam, about Saipan, about Christian colleges, about life. It wasn’t until around noon, when Manny came back for lunch, that I realized he hadn’t said a word to Beth about my visit.

She was just cool enough to act like it was completely normal to wake up to strangers on the living room couch and to make them feel at home (in a home that wasn’t even hers).

A few months after Manny and I married, we crashed Beth’s wedding on a whim–flew in to see her with no prior notice, surprising her a couple of days before the ceremony–and I had the honor of being a very last-minute bridesmaid as she exchanged vows with the love of her life.

Fast-forward four years, and we’re all on the lawn outside Manny’s parents’ Gettysburg home, wrangling our twins and Beth’s toddler with the parents’ help in an attempt to get a good photo of all three. And it occurs to me that, of all the bizarre family dramas I’ve experienced, I’m very, very thankful that my in-laws aren’t one of them. I’m also thankful for the very cool sister I never saw coming.