When you become an adult, and all the trappings that sometimes go with that, whether it be a full time job, owning a home, a marriage, or having a child or two, your own wishes and dreams outside of those things are often not always first.
And when you love other people, sometimes—many times—you simply have to put them first. Their needs, their limits, their desires.
Some of your dreams—those lifelong hopes collecting dust on a shelf—must lie dormant for a while, perhaps forever. There is compromise and patience. There is letting go and holding on. But you stick around to see how things play out. They just might go your way.
In my case, one dream just did.
One of the things I said I would do after graduating from college was own a dog. I wanted to settle some scores from childhood and growing up. But apartment living did not allow for that. Neither did full time jobs for both of us, not to mention law school at night. We simply couldn’t make it work back then.
Then, somehow twenty years lapsed, my dream unfulfilled.
I grew up with a few dogs. I fell madly in love with each one, especially the last two. Ultimately neither of them lived out their entire lives with us. For different reasons, they were transferred to new homes well before they were old and infirm. The reasons are not germane here, but the heartbreaking effect of that is.
So is the ordeal that my daughter endured when (and because) we had a cat for a while. Again, the details are not important, but my daughter’s passage from anxious to the point of immobility and extreme physical symptoms within her own home to being able to enjoy this right here below, is nothing short of miraculous, a word that I do not use lightly.
I’ve already written about why we wanted the dog for her, but there is so much a part of this that’s for me. This dog represents things in childhood that I had no control over. This dog represents making choices as an adult that are completely my own or as part of a married couple. This dog represents a shift in personal and professional priorities for me, at least for now, which requires (and thankfully allows) me to be in our home virtually all of the time. Everything has its tradeoffs. Me leaving the full time workforce as an attorney a few years ago has certainly shown me the wonderful and gritty ramifications of that choice, especially lately.
But Zoe is absolutely one of the wonderful ones, and I am glad I stuck around.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
With almost precision timing for Mother’s Day, the towers of lilac buds growing along the southern side of our yard silently burst open, revealing their pale pinkish purple flowers within. It’s a mystery how these ragtag, decades old bushes time it for the second Sunday each May. No matter what Old Man Winter throws their way, they rarely miss. Though the explosion of blanched color is a private affair, it seems, waiting until my attention is turned elsewhere.
Their perfume floats like a veil on the warm spring air for only a few days. It reminds me how transient the most humble of beauty and service all too often is. They are not like the summer marigolds or hosta, those guests who linger at the party that’s gone on way too long, making their hostess grow weary and resentful of the tidying still to come. No, the lilacs are not like them at all. Rather, they are the diffident butler who quietly lets you into the grand mansion of spring, but go missing when you want your shawl.
Today we cut a few lilacs for my daughter’s first grade teacher: snip, tuck into wet paper towel, wrap in a short strip of foil.
You remember. I certainly do.
While we were walking to school, she clutched the quaint bouquet for her beloved teacher, the manufactured film of clear plastic wholly incongruent with the bark and bloom within. Seeing her small fingers wrapped tightly around the stems, I was thrust back onto the saffron yellow school bus I rode as a child in elementary school. I was carrying my own bouquet, though it was forsythia and they were intended for Mrs. Sherry, the bus driver. I remember her bouffant salt and pepper hair and navy blue polyester pants, with black boots poking out. I remember the smile she gave as I handed them to her. I remember how I felt when she did that.
How can I recall that scene in the accordion doorway of a hot school bus—some thirty years ago—yet cannot recall more than a handful of high school teachers or what kind of cake we had at our wedding? It baffles me. But that instant is like a pressed flower in my mind, its forsythia yellow color still vivid even though the petals might be a bit brittle and dry.
Will today’s lilac bouquet and teacher’s smile press just as firmly into my daughter’s mind? Or will they disappear like the butler?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
I remember before I got married, someone wise told me to take a moment during my wedding ceremony to look around at all of those people there with us. Really soak it in, all that love and friendship seated just yards away as we started our new chapter together. It was some really great advice.
However, it’s not what I remember from that day. Or at least it’s not the first memory of that milestone that jumps to the fore.
I realized this the other day while I was running a few miles on an indoor track. On the running hierarchy, running on a track—and a smaller, “more laps to a mile” track at that—ranks a hair above treadmill running for me. It’s definitely not my first choice of venue for running. I’d much rather be outside. But you might’ve heard we’ve had a smidge of snow here in Massachusetts. Just a tad.
To pass the time, I’d started a game with myself. Take a big milestone from my life, and what’s the very first thing that jumps into my mind.
First kiss: in middle school; a boy named Jason, at the fun fair, and he was wearing an acid washed denim jacket
First car (used Subaru): having to use two feet to drive if it rained
First college drinking experience gone wrong: Sex on the Beach (the drink); still cannot stand the smell of peach schnapps some 20+ years later
College graduation: bagpipes during the procession
Renting first post-college apartment: that huge closet and how frigid it was in winter
First international travel (Costa Rica): the sulfur smell of the hot springs and the sound of howler monkeys
Law school graduation: walking down the middle of Tremont Street in Boston to the Wang Theater
Wedding: My husband, E, forgetting his lines during the vows. The officiant would give a sentence or two for each of us to repeat, except that inadvertently he’d given E an entire paragraph without stopping. I will never forget that look on E’s face.
Honeymoon (Mexico): countless strawberry daiquiris and reading Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks, by the pool
Being sworn into the bar: my father-in-law’s smile while we were in Fanueil Hall for the ceremony
Buying our house: Eric looking pale while we signed the P&S and our agent asking him if he’d like a drink of water
Giving birth to my daughter: both of us yelling for the doctors to tell us whether it was a boy or girl (we didn’t know ahead of time) and them laughing because they thought we knew—those were the longest ten seconds of our life!
Wanna play? Leave your answers in the comments. Have a great weekend and Happy Valentine’s Day—and I raise a virtual warm mug of cocoa to my fellow New England friends…because there’s more snow on the way. Hang in there.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
For the past week, there have really been only two noteworthy things going on in my life:
1. an incredible and unprecedented amount of snowfall that has, so far, resulted in six consecutive snow days at my daughter’s school, and
2. I went to the Billy Idol concert on Saturday night.
Until today, those two things didn’t seem connected in any particular way. But as I listen to my daughter squeal outside in the snow while her dad is shoveling, a kind of relevance has stopped me in my tracks.
I’m pretty certain that this string of snowstorms and their consequential school closings will be forever etched in my daughter’s mind. It feels epic, and certainly looks epic, when the elements force you to remain idle and at home for days on end. It’s anyone’s guess whether she will see a similar situation play out in her remaining school years. In fact, just maybe, it might not happen again quite like this until (or if) she becomes a mother someday, with her own children hunkered down with her during some stormy winter month.
When I first saw Billy Idol, it was 1990. I was sixteen and in eleventh grade. It was a rainy September night when he played that outdoor show. He’d just recovered from his infamous motorcycle accident. Even though he was still using a cane that night, he rocked that stage. I’m pretty sure it was the first concert I went to without a parent, and it was a good hour away from where I lived. Those factors alone make that concert incredibly memorable to me.
Well, those things and the fact that one of the people who I went to that concert with was my then boyfriend. By then we’d been dating three years, and would go on to date until the early part of my freshman year in college. We broke up for good after that. But the thing is that while I was in that particular moment of my life—not the concert, but being a sixteen year old girl—I thought I had a pretty good handle on how my life was going to look as an adult. I dare say I was certain.
Well, memories will burn you.
Memories grow older as people can
They just get colder
Like sweet sixteen
“Sweet Sixteen” – Billy Idol
Of course, with the hindsight of a 41 year old woman, I now know I couldn’t really know any of that, much less whether I’d see Billy play in concert some distant time in the future—some almost 25 years into the future to be precise.
I am, right now, in a much different place than where I thought I’d be. Happy, definitely. But also so totally and utterly different. The first concert has remained etched in my mind, but most of the professions, plans, or people never really panned out. Which is why, I think, when these “big” things happen in our young lives, they become the brighter points on the timeline of our life. Snowstorms, first concerts, and first boyfriends all become a frame of reference for looking forward and, eventually, for looking back.
As I stood there among the concertgoers this time around I was struck by how old we mostly were, not in the sense of being elderly, but our collective age range. A few women remarked in the bathroom they’d seen him in high school or middle school. The guy behind me on the stairs after the show said he was 16 when he saw him…in 1984. There were many folks there who were well into their 60s. It was apparent to me that lots of folks were reliving something there that night, I think, but I also wonder if they were taking stock of what good they have right now. I certainly was.
Here’s my advice: if you can, find a way to go to a live show of someone you saw when you were a teenager. Look around you and see your contemporaries swaying to the music having a great night. Then, when you hear “your songs”, consider your journey to right there. You will look back at all the brilliant points of light along your lifeline, and I bet you will see that you were not as idle in this life as you first thought.
What was your most memorable concert as a teenager? Where has life taken you since then?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
My beloved maple still has a full verdant crown. Only a smattering of leaves have been tinged with a kiss of deep burgundy. Jewels in the crown. Those will fall early, it seems. Did the arborist tell me it was a Norway maple? I think so, but I can’t remember. It doesn’t really matter. I love this tree, deep into the heartwood. It’s a constant that I gaze upon often. Though I worry about the wet autumn winds when she is still heavy with leaves. Will she weather the storm another year? Is it better to have the three trunks instead of one? It seems as though she is stable, but I’m never entirely sure.
She turned seven this month. Her hair is barely blond anymore. Is that because she’s going to be a brunette or we didn’t spend enough time outside this summer? I need to be better about that next year. I can’t even remember most of August and here she is starting first grade. New teacher, new classmates, new expectations. Even our morning routine feels a little different, though I can’t place how just yet. She still likes to snuggle on the couch for the last ten minutes before we leave. I know the transitions are hard for her, but nothing like they used to be. I’m happy for this change, though more for her than for me.
The colors don’t seem as vibrant as last year. Or maybe they are the same. I really don’t remember. I always think I will recall year to year, but then I never do. Black spot has peppered the changing leaves this year, but it’s only noticeable on the few that have reached the ground. The crown is now dull and muted, like an army boot that has trudged through miles of terrain. She’s getting ready to let her leaves go. But not without a show first. She waits until the very end of the month to glide into a spectrum of golds. Did it happen overnight? It seems that way. I try to catch a few of the big ones to press between a heavy book so I can remember their vivid yellow, but my effort is futile. I leave empty handed, with only a memory lightly etched into my mind’s eye. Or so I tell myself.
I know what it is now: she doesn’t want me to read to her before school anymore. She’d rather look out the window or play in the last few minutes before I say, “it’s time to go” and hunt down shoes and keys. When she was three and four and five, clinging to me and crying, this is what I longed for, right? Then why do I feel like an awkward interloper? I’m no longer a necessary participant. When did that happen? She’s only seven. Yet she still wants to hold my hand on the walk to school. I clutch her small fingers as though they were gold coins. I don’t want to let go of my riches while I still have them. I’m holding on tight.
It only took two weeks. The branches danced vigorously some of those nights, dropping confetti on the lawn. When I look out my window in the morning, I see the party is almost over. Points of gold and brown flutter and glow in the low angled light, stuck between blades of grass. Are they waving goodbye? Only a few leaves remain on the tree. Maybe they are stubborn and don’t want to let go. I wonder what holds on tighter—the stem or the branch? If it’s the tree, I would understand completely. But, eventually, the leaves will drop. They always do. There are never any leaves left come December. Some drift into the yards of neighbors or clog the storm drains along our sandy streets. The rest get raked into a pile, only to end up in the city’s hands or in our compost bin. The cycle of life. I try to keep as much of them in my yard as I can. They will feed the soil and fuel the flowers come spring. They are mine and I don’t want to let go.
We sail through the mornings. No more “hurry up” or “did you remember?” is needed from me. Afternoons are spent in mutual space but individual thoughts, especially when I let her take the lead. That’s been true for a while now. I just wait idle in the living room while she goes about her routine. Though I want to feel needed and find myself offering a gentle reminder before she even needs one. I get heavy sighs and “I know” in return. She’s making it clear that she’s letting go in this small way that doesn’t feel at all small to me. She’s asking questions about things that I know she’s picking up from friends as she flutters with them through recess and snack time. Things that seem like they are on the other side of the cusp where she stands. They are “what’s next” and I’m not entirely ready. I take pictures of her, much like the way I’d press those leaves I never seem to catch. I’m afraid I’ll forget, that my memory won’t be strong enough to withstand the windy days and barer branches ahead. She is mine and I don’t want to let go.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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