Even though it was nine years ago, I remember that giddy anticipation when we purchased our house. Our first house. This house.
Were we taking too much of a financial risk? I was barely a year into my job as a law firm associate. The very month during which we closed was also the apex of the bloated housing bubble. Needless to say, we leaped without much of a parachute, much less any alternate flight plans.
Would we spend all of our free time cleaning and tweaking this house? Our 800 SF apartment had been quite enough to maintain, it seemed.
Was this too big for just the two of us? We had no plans for animals or children.
But perhaps most pressing at the time, where will we sit?
We quickly realized we needed to fill these rooms if we wanted to use them. Wasn’t that the point, in fact, of buying a home?
Given the inflated cost of the house, our budget for furnishings was meager. We decided to start with the living room. We only had one piece to bring from the apartment: an oversized, overstuffed chair and ottoman. A faded sage twill, it was incredibly comfortable, at least to our twenty and thirtysomething year old bodies. It was practical too: the ottoman doubled as seating during parties. No matter that it took up a third of our new living room.
Yes, we would have to design and coordinate any new living room furniture around this chair.
We filled the room, somewhat in haste and all without really projecting into the future. No, we didn’t exactly account for our actual daily endeavors and pastimes in mind, or how our bodies might age (hint: much faster than we anticipated). We bought a honking large armoire to tuck away the tube television. A coffee table and an end table with the world’s sharpest corners rounded out the rest of the room. People could sit now too. The couch we ended up with was striped in green and blue, and a more scaled down version of the stuffy, puffy chair. Eventually we added a cheap book shelf to the room and a little bit of tabletop lighting.
It was all ours. These pieces quickly became fixtures within the central corridor of our home. People could sit and gather, think and talk, flop and snooze.
And tomorrow, we say goodbye to all of it in order to make way for new things.* Pieces that won’t break our backs anymore. Pieces that are more thought out with what we like to do in this room. Pieces that take into account the wide range of ages that frequent our home.
Up until a few days ago, I was happy about the whole thing. I mean, of course I still am. Our new space will have some additions I have coveted for many years (read: far more bookshelf space) and will lend itself to a more streamlined flow. We also have an opportunity to make others happy in the process. Yes. Good things.
And yet I am suddenly sentimental about one piece that is moving on: our sofa.
While watching my daughter lounge across the blue and green stripes earlier this week, I was unexpectedly face to face with an attachment I didn’t know I had to this workaday piece of furniture.
All in a moment, I remembered all that has happened on those 82 inches of upholstery and fill.
The endless hours of nursing her in that first (draining) year, her soft wisps of hair fluttering against my naked skin.
The Al Bundy years.
The (seemingly) endless hours of tending to her through the stomach bug/roseola/colds/strep/swine flu/fevers.
The infinite games of Uno and Go Fish.
Emma and Paul getting priority seating.
The countless cereal bars and yogurt smoothies consumed there by her for breakfast. Every. Day.
The slowly growing length of her legs that used to take up just one cushion, then two, and now three.
The naps where she fell asleep on top of me and I just breathed in the scent of her hair until she awoke.
The skills learned.
The books read.
The birthday and Christmas presents opened.
The sillies and the tickles.
The tears and the laughter.
I guess it’s not surprising that I am feeling sentimental about the sofa, though I wasn’t really expecting this reaction. It’s caused a few tears for sure. I thought maybe giving away her bed or our dining room table would someday move me like this, but not the sofa that I can no longer sit in for more than an hour without suffering the painful consequence. Yet, when I really think about it, there is a physical closeness that takes place on the sofa that is very much unlike what happens around a table or even a child’s bed. Snuggles ensue. Hugs happen. Heads rest upon shoulders. Toes touch knees. Intimate moments become indelible imprints. It is, it seems, the natural order of things when two or more people are sitting in such comfortable and close proximity.
But it’s time to let it go. It is.
And, just maybe, it will become sentimental to someone else too.
* I’m happy to pay all of it forward. The chair went (for free) to a woman who was looking to finish furnishing her own living room on the cheap. I was a little irritated because she never came back for the ottoman as promised, but I ultimately found another sweet, older woman who was looking to decorate her much-saved for and recently purchaed beach house where she will visit with her ten grandchildren each summer. She will reupholster the ottoman and use it as a coffee table. And the rest? It will be going to help formerly homeless individuals who are taking those first steps of having their own place to call home, and just need a little help filling the space. For those of you living in the greater Boston area and whom might have gently used furniture to donate, I encourage you to reach out to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. There are many—too many—families who could use what you no longer need. Other than the chair and ottoman (which I gave away via Freecycle), this is where all of our living room furniture is going to live its second life, and hopefully a wonderful one at that.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I think what’s great about my daughter’s age right now, six and a half years old, is that her more nuanced personality traits and tendencies are starting to really blossom. She’s always been particularly empathic and feels deeply, if you will. But, I recently found out, she also seems to be a bit of a sentimentalist too. Am I a sentimentalist at heart? I wonder.
I’ve mentioned before that Vermont holds a special place in the hearts of both my husband and me. It almost feels like a secret, magical world up there, one that not too many people seem to know about. I think that’s why we love it so.
We’ve been going almost annually for many years now. We used to stay in Woodstock or Middlebury, but for the past few years we’ve been staying in Shelburne. We’ve taken our daughter up with us only once (she was about two) when we rented a house in Woodstock. We invited her grandparents up for that trip too. But since that time, we’ve been going to Shelburne (without our daughter or anyone else) for the past several Columbus Day weekends. It has become a tradition that seems to have solidified. It is our getaway of sorts and I look forward to it starting around November.
In 1998, we got engaged in Vermont. While we were up there during that long weekend, we took a day trip to Burlington. I bought this key chain at Danforth Pewter.
Last summer, after 15 years of nonstop use, the ring that attaches to the key ring broke. Unless it was re-soldered, it was useless. I was pretty bummed about it all, but just tucked it away in a drawer, unwilling to throw it away knowing that I bought it when we got engaged. Even though I’m not particularly sentimental about objects, I could not seem to part with this.
Before we left for our 2013 trip to Shelburne, I remembered the broken key chain and decided to bring it with me to see what Danforth Pewter might be able to do. When I got to the store, the clerk asked, “Well, we can either give you a brand new key chain or we can repair this one, if there is sentimental value to it.” The implication was, I think, that it wasn’t really worth the trouble and/or cost to fix this key chain given its original cost.
I chose to repair it. The thing is, I like all of its worn smoothness. I’m fond of the tiny nicks and notches it has acquired from banging against my keys for fifteen years. I like the worry stone properties it seems to have, allowing me to rub my thumb against the glass when I am nervous about something. This is the one I want. I am not willing to part with it.
About a month ago, I attempted to clean the kitchen sink window. I have a sun catcher on this window. Or at least I did. It was a stamped glass flower in a lovely shade of yellow that matches our kitchen walls. I bought it, not surprisingly, while in Burlington a few years ago, the same year that we remodeled our kitchen and chose the yellow paint color. I’m not a big souvenir person, but I did like this and thought it would look lovely over our sink, where I could remember our times in Vermont while washing dishes.
I wasn’t careful about the way I tried to take it off the suction cup before cleaning the window. In one swift motion it went from window down into the drain and broke in two. “Oh no!” I said out loud.
M came running in. “What happened, Mommy?” I showed her the broken pieces in my hand and we looked at them together.
I sighed. “I’m really sad. I liked that sun catcher. I bought it with Daddy up in Vermont. Oh well,” I said with a big sigh as I opened the trash drawer to throw the shards away. I wanted to get back to cleaning the window.
As I tossed them into the trash, M started getting upset. “No, Mommy! Don’t throw those away! It’s special to you!”
“But, M, they’re broken. I can’t fix this because it’s glass.” I looked at her to see if she understood. The concept of which things can and cannot be fixed is still gelling at this age.
“No! You can still keep them and remember it,” she said. She was visibly distraught and tears formed in her eyes. She went on to beg me to keep it.
I, on the other hand, while somewhat sad (though more angry at myself for my haste), knew that I could probably buy another one the next time we were up there. I didn’t understand why she was so sad.
But given her insistence that I keep it, I thought maybe she was on to something. Maybe she was more in tune with the sentimentality of this object than even I was. Is that possible? Perhaps.
And so . . .
Two pieces of glass sit upstairs in a drawer, not catching much sun anymore.
It’s all got me to thinking about my own level of sentimentality, especially given that I recently turned forty. Am I more jaded and care less because of it? Or do I care more because of my growing sense of mortality and the brevity of life? With the exception of photos and words set to paper, either by people I know and love (letters, cards) or by strangers (books), I am not overly sentimental these days when it comes to most other “things”. I don’t hang on to much that is not in active use.
I think about the material things that I cannot part with, but more so the why. I realize that I am perhaps not as sentimental as I once was, and I now wonder, based on this sun catcher incident, if I too often let my pragmatic side get in the way. I do not like clutter or wasting precious space in our humble little house. It’s why I have absolutely no problem donating away her baby toys and most of her books. Yet I do keep the books that have special meaning to us, and I cannot let go of some of the very early outfits she wore and loved.
It’s the sense of closeness to her, my husband, and a few other people that determines where on the sentimentality spectrum something might fall. But even more specifically, the closeness of a particular time or event with these loved ones. These kept objects and mementos have the very real effect of bringing me back to those specific days and the emotions I felt at the time. Yet, when balanced with my sometimes overly loud practical side, I think that’s why I didn’t think to throw away the key chain, but found it kind of silly to keep broken glass. Sentimentality and practicality are sometimes hard to reconcile.
Though, in the end, I did keep the sun catcher anyway because I wondered if she was wiser about something that I could not see for myself at the time. Given how unexpectedly happy I was to find it in a drawer this past Sunday, I know she was.
What’s sentimental to you? Is there anything you regret not holding onto? Are your children sentimental too?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I’m not sure if it’s my earlier days of schooling in science, or my lifetime love of taking photographs—nothing tops the magic of developing your own film—but I’ve always loved the various instruments that we use to examine the world around us. Microscopes, telescopes, cameras and mirrors—they all focus, capture and reflect the wonder that is contained within our world. They each offer a different way to put things in context. They help us better understand our reality. They have stories to tell, though sometimes the endings are yet unknown.
Take the telescope, for example. It allows us to see things far beyond our reach (at least right now). It puts us, mere mortals, into some often needed perspective. We are so small. We are not all that there is. Today’s biggest problem may not be all that big after all.
Or the microscope. We can glimpse at the infinite moving parts that make up life. Only when we step away from the viewfinder do we appreciate the macro that is comprised of the micro. We are humbled that some life, just nanometers in diameter, can be the difference between life and death for others. We may be larger in relative size, but by no means are we always going to be the victor.
Cameras, too. They capture a moment in time, something we want to remember. We use our editorial license to frame it just so, and though there’s no way to capture the other senses that were ignited in that particular moment—the squeals of baby feet being tickled, the yeasty smell of a warm kitchen on Christmas, the cool breeze that kissed our cheek—we take pictures to catalog a life that was lived. We create a pictorial inventory that allows us to take stock at the end of our days and remind us that it all really happened, and it was as beautiful as we remember it to be.
Mirrors allow us to see what’s in front of us, right now, as well as what’s behind us already in our rear view, sometimes safely, sometimes sadly. Mirrors force us to acknowledge the gray hair and the latent effect of too much time at the shore. We can take one last glance before we put the car in drive and pull away.
This morning, while I was pulling my wet hair back to start my day, I stood in the bathroom before our large mirror and realized I wasn’t really looking at myself directly. Sure, I don’t really need the aid of reflection to tie a wet ponytail, but we have this huge 3′x4′ mirror and three bright lights and yet I don’t really look at myself with more than a glance anymore. Somehow I am able to put on makeup and brush my teeth every day without really looking at myself. Why am I avoiding my own reality, one that I’ve essentially earned? Or maybe it’s deserved. Do you do this too?
I don’t know when I started this avoidance technique, but it seems to have coincided with the gray hairs taking up residence atop my head and the wrinkles and sags that have settled in these past few years. Rather than staring myself down, I tend to daydream and let my wind wander while I have these few minutes of solitude in the morning. It seems like a more productive use of my time.
And this morning I was thinking about all of these various instruments we use to look at our physical world around us. I thought about how they are equally useful, in a metaphorical sense, to examine our own lives. It got me to thinking about how, when I was younger, particularly in my late teens, the mirror (literally) and telescope (figuratively) were my primary tools. I was only concerned about what I looked like right in that moment, and what my future might contain. I didn’t reflect so much about the past. There was nothing particularly noteworthy that required me to memorialize it with a camera, if you could even come by one then.
Then there was a shift in my twenties, especially in college. I wanted to remember it all because I was having so much fun. I especially wanted to retain evidence of my budding independence and existence as an entity outside of my family (which was going through a divorce) and then long-term boyfriend from high school (we broke up around my sophomore year in college). As a result, there were many pictures taken while I was living my life in Worcester. In fact, it was probably my only tool, other than a vague sense that I was supposed to be using a telescope to peer beyond the four years I would be at college.
From the time I graduated college until my mid-thirties, I think a microscope would best describe the means by which I deliberated my life. What parts were there? What, or perhaps whom, was I made of? How did I function optimally, exactly? These are the questions you ask as you parse out career paths, future husbands, and domiciles. It is a period of extreme, close-up examination. Slide after slide, your eyes can hurt under the strain and headaches develop with so much focusing, but the work must be done. It is the critical point to do so as your life apex appears on the horizon.
And now? Becoming a mother has required me to shift the tools in my arsenal once again. I find this to be a period of deep reflection—primarily about my own childhood and my parents’ (since ended) marriage—as I compare and contrast the life I had and the parents I had, with the life and guidance I now offer M as her mother. I feel like I am looking in a rearview mirror much of the time, maybe to be sure I am not veering off the good parts of the course that my parents led me down, at least while they were still married.
The camera is also once again in heavy rotation. It is seemingly permanently affixed to my eye, my finger trigger happy like no other time. I do not want forget any of it. Has time always been this fleeting? I don’t recall it so. I also want to create indelible memories for my daughter to look back upon someday, particularly when we, her parents, are no longer of this world. I now realize that both of these motivations to create lasting impressions come from some deep scars (both good and bad) that I have finally come to terms with, and now realize shape so much of how I have approached my years as a parent.
But why am I suddenly so afraid of the mirror before me? I wonder about this. Is it that I am afraid to acknowledge what is really there, or, more to the point, not there? Indeed, it is the one instrument that requires some confidence and comfort in oneself; the others are all outwardly facing so we don’t have to look as good. I need to think about this for a while. I also need to remind myself that the telescope does not have to be banished to the back of the closet just because I’ve turned forty. I’m allowed to look forward and outward and course correct as new discoveries are made. Maybe only then, after I have finished charting the constellations and nebulae that are within my dusky sky, will I be able to finally look in the mirror with the same confidence as that once upon a time teenage girl.
What instrument do you favor to view your life right in this moment? Which one are you most comfortable holding?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I am about to turn forty (in exactly three weeks), which has had me reflecting in some very deep ways lately. To be brutally honest, some of those reflections have been painful as I mentally try to find parallels between where I am at this age, and what was going on for my parents when they were this age (or at least my mother; she’s a few years younger than my dad). It occurred to me a few weeks ago that my parents split when my mom was this age. And as many of you know, when parents divorce, many things that were once done as a whole family fall by the wayside, especially holiday traditions. It is hard, even all these years later, to think about that sometimes.
Now that M is six years old, and her dad and I have been together more than 19 years (though married since only 2002), I savored my coffee and took inventory of our traditions this morning. After all, it’s the last day of school before the winter break, and the house will be quiet for just a few hours more until she’s home for a stretch. The frenzy is about to set in.
And then I
worried wondered? Do we have any traditions? What do they look like compared to our respective childhood traditions? I was concerned that there were no unified traditions that she will one day be able to look back on, which, for me, is a large part of this holiday season (especially since I celebrate without any religious component). It seemed like the right time to take stock. I needed to reassure myself that there are pearls being strung on this strand of her necklace.
There are indeed . . .
We get our tree usually the weekend after E’s (my husband) birthday on 12/5.
We now have a local farm where we go pick out a fresh cut tree and get cider donuts too.
We don’t make a fuss about the tree. Quite often, we just get the first one we see, provided the trunk isn’t funky. I think it’s because we want to get to the donuts.
E drinks the season’s first egg nog while putting on the lights. (I can’t stand the stuff!)
We put all the decorations on together, with the crystal snowflakes (we get one a year from my dad) going on last.
We play Christmas carols while the lights go on.
E and M hang far more of the ornaments than me, but I’m usually close by putting the other decorations out.
We hide a red cardinal bird each morning for M to find (my quasi-rejection of Elf on the Shelf).
We watch a holiday themed movie every Friday during December (and a few in between too).
We read holiday themed books before bed or school, and add one or two to the collection each year. (Gramma added this year’s new book though: Katie the Candy Cane Fairy).
E is in charge of stringing up the outdoor lights.
Every year there is at least one strand of lights that craps out. And we always think we’ve got more, can’t find them, go buy more, and then forget the following year.
I buy a bag of Hershey’s white chocolate and peppermint Kisses (the only kind M likes) for the candy dishes.
The bubble snowman night light goes in the downstairs bathroom.
We hang all the Christmas cards we receive around the door frame between the living and dining rooms.
We buy and donate toys to kids who need them, and we make a cash donation to two local emergency food providers.
I make snickerdoodles and sugar cookies and usually at least one other kind. We eat some and share the rest with our neighbors and family.
The adult children (and their spouses) on my husband’s side do a Secret Santa gift exchange. On my side, we set a dollar limit for gifts among the adult kids and spouses.
I take M’s photo for our holiday card in our backyard, each year making sure that the color red is prominently featured in her clothes or elsewhere in the photo, like the seat cushion this year. She’s usually freezing to death during the shoot and reminds me of it often.
We go to Gramma’s on Christmas Eve to eat dinner and open presents there.
We go to Mem and Pep’s late on Christmas day to eat dinner and open presents there.
We Skype with Grandpa and Grandma down in South Carolina to open their presents.
In between the grandparents’ houses and calls, we have Santa and our own family gift exchange at our house on Christmas morning. It’s certainly a whirlwind 48 hours.
We make those so-bad-for-you Pillsbury cinnamon buns on Christmas morning. And eat every single one.
And, of course, there are the minor tweaks or changes from year to year . . . and perhaps those make it all memorable too. I believe that 2013 is looking like “The Year We Moved the Tree From My Office to the Living Room and Then the Tree Didn’t Drink a Single Drop of Water and Dropped All of Its Needles Before Christmas”. Ah, well.
There are a lot of traditions, it seems. And though virtually none of them resemble the traditions from my own childhood, I find am increasingly OK with this.
However you spend the remainder of 2013, may it be full of love and laughter, perhaps the best tradition of all.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
I’ve mentioned a few times here before that M is, and forever will be, an only child. This was our choice, which I know is not true for every singleton family you might meet.
I’ve also mentioned that I grew up with a brother, and may have mentioned that my husband (M’s dad) grew up with a brother and a sister. I think some people find it odd that we have siblings (whom we love!) and yet we chose not to have more than one child. I can see why that’s unusual to some people.
Indeed, the fact that we are two people with siblings raising an only child often makes me curious about the differences between how we grew up versus how she is growing up. It got me to thinking this might be a good (if occasional) series to start, because indeed, there is something about raising, if not being, an only.
The thing that struck me the other day was, while I was in some sort of mood (and not a good one), how M’s perspective of us, as parents, will be the only one out there. In other words, she won’t have someone to temper the memories of the people we were while she was growing up as our child. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, just the reality. I had never really thought about that before.
When you have a sibling (or at least it seems to me), you can balance things a bit more because there is at least one other input into the discussion. Yes, we all have our own individual perceptions of other people and circumstances, but having others to share and recount the past (and its truths) gives it all more texture and a certain level of credibility.
Here’s an example of what I mean. When I have a “moody” day and am not very fun to be around, I tend to dwell on it and how I’m somehow shortchanging M. I think we all do that as parents, no matter how many kids we have. We tend to be less forgiving with ourselves about the “off” days we have with our children, and forget the 90% of good and great days we generally live in. Add to this that for the past year, I’ve also been suffering with multiple migraines per month, which leaves me out of commission at least a few days a month here and there. So string a few of those moody days together with days where I need to sleep off a migraine for a few hours and I start to feel like I’m a lousy parent all of the time (even though my rational mind reminds me that it’s not actually the truth).
And then I start to question whether M will look back on these days with a sense of “she was always grumpy” because she is, in effect, the only witness to that. No brothers or sisters are around to remind her that no, Mommy was on the couch maybe one or two days a month (and hopefully for only a short while) or that she was only grumpy once in a while.
Or how about a benign example: I could see where M might grow up thinking that we served her Annie’s mac n’ cheese every day for lunch but a wiser/pickier/less pickier sibling would (rightly) point out that we were mean parents and only gave it to her once a week. But she won’t have that benefit of asking, “Do you remember when Mom would…?” Again, not a good or bad thing, just different from my childhood and the ability to do that with my brother.
The level of intimacy that the parent-child relationship has is almost unmatched to any other. The way we raise our children and the people we are around them shapes such a large part of whom they later become. Consciously or otherwise, it also shapes the kind of relationship we will have with them when they are adults, how they interact with us if/when they get married/have kids/choose where to live, and how they relate to us in our last years of life. It’s just interesting (and maybe a little scary) to now realize that only she will hold memories and opinions of us as parents through all of that. Let’s just hope it’s the better ones that outshine the others.
Do you talk about the people your parents were with your siblings? Does their point of view often coincide with yours? Or, if you’re an only, how does having only your perspective shape the way you view your parents?
Stay tuned for the next The Only Thing Is . . . where I will explore how assertiveness and the absence of siblings recently surfaced in an unforeseen way.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
Copyright (c) 2010-2014 Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved. Personal theme was created in WordPress by Obox Themes.