To feel the dash and dance of the thing

Surely I’m not the only one. Surely you’ve felt it too? The weight of another life? A path not chosen?

When I was in 7th or 8th grade I read a memoir of a girl who grew up outside of New York City, always looking in on the bustling streets and bright lights. This girl grew up to be an editor at a publishing house, and the book followed her years in the city, commuting home, life as she made her way up the corporate publishing ladder.

This book wasn’t particularly glamorous in its portrayal of either the city or the publishing industry. Still, from the time I closed the paperback cover, my eyes lingering over The End for a breathless moment, I knew. I had never been to New York before, and I didn’t really have a clue as to the job specifications of an editor or agent or any other position in publishing for that matter, but I wanted that city, that job. This desire, this image, never left me. It shaped the path on which I tried to steer my life.

One year after Zach and I were married (four years after a summer internship in New York), I surprised him.

Guess what? I asked.

He was probably marinating chicken breasts or plucking parsley from our balcony garden, or sharpening his paring knife, or doing whatever it is cooks do.

I got a job. In New York. We have to be there in two weeks.

That last part of my sentence trailed off as I probably ducked behind the counter to avoid a slip of the paring knife. This wasn’t exactly a thoughtful surprise to spring on him, being that he already had a job. In Indiana. Where we lived.

He said Okay. He went on basting the chicken, stirring the spaghetti sauce. He never questioned it, not once.

And he never questioned me when I was pregnant with Mia and confessed that I wanted to move back to Indiana to be near our families as we started our own family.

When I told my boss at the time, a fellow Midwesterner, she said, “I feel like if I moved back I would know exactly what my life would be like, and I think I’d rather not know, you know?”

I did, and I didn’t. To me, embarking on this new journey of motherhood was an adventure. I had no idea what I was getting into and yet I already viscerally felt the tug-and-pull of this new role in both its urgency and tediousness. The task of securing a new apartment (our 450 square-foot one bedroom wouldn’t cut it) and navigating the childcare system in the city, I had decided, was just too much to conquer.

I remember the exact moment I made this decision. I was at my doctor’s office in a building off Central Park West, standing at the front desk to schedule my next appointment, when a cockroach ran across the receptionist’s calendar. I must have squealed because she looked up from her phone call and when I gestured to the cockroach that scurried into a dark corner of the desk, she just rolled her eyes and went back to her conversation. That, combined with the numerous mothers I saw laboriously struggling to schlep a stroller, diaper bag, and baby up the subway steps while grasping fiercely to the hand of a toddler, was enough to scare me away from raising a family in the city. I had been removed from the suburbs long enough to covet backyards, room to breathe, and wide open spaces to roam.

The thing is, my boss’s words haunt me sometimes as I drive familiar streets, pointing out my high school to Mia, the house where we lived until I was in fifth grade, and I swallow the acid taste of a memory that’s always, always just under the surface. If one thought shaped my middle school and high school years it was this: I’m going to get out of this landlocked, cornfield hell someday. (So very teen angst of me, yes?) I can still access that teenager who so badly wanted another world to call her own. I still feel her below my skin. Some days she floats so close to the surface that our fibers and marrows fuse, and I can no longer tell the difference.

I should tell you that this isn’t just about place. It isn’t just that I chose to leave a city I love to make my home in a city I spent a good part of my life wanting to leave. That job that I accepted when we moved to New York? I loved that job. I have a passion for the industry and I had the privilege of calling one of the best in the business my mentor. I would have been a damn good literary agent.

Shortly after Mia was born, I swaddled her in blankets and we set off for a walk around our new neighborhood, the slight chill of early spring at my back. The neighborhood we now lived in was built for families with a pool, tennis courts, a day care, a running path, and soccer fields, yet we were alone on our walk. Not one person crossed our path. Maybe it was postpartum hormones but it all seemed so desolate and sad, and my body, my everything, ached for the dash and dance of the city I abandoned, for the work I loved, for the person I was only a short time ago.

Mia was fast asleep when we returned home. I sat on our big front porch in the silence of midmorning suburbia and wondered, What had I done? Why did I think that to mother my child I had to surrender all the other parts of me? Mia awoke with the bleating, angry cry of a newborn just as tears slipped down my cheeks. Suddenly, I wasn’t at all sure that could do this, and there we sat, both of us new and nothing right.

When I think back to my first few months as a new mother, aside from the moment my daughter was born, this is the memory that takes center stage. It is still so palpable that I can go back to that place without effort. In a wink, I am on that porch again, questioning everything.

“I would know exactly what my life would be like, and I think I’d rather not know…”

A couple of weeks ago, I told Zach that I felt the pressing of this path not chosen. I felt stifled by it. Do you think we could do it again? Move back to New York? He entertained my idea, as he always does, and his willingness to play along set my mind in overdrive and suddenly I was planning out the logistics of such a move.

Zach has a saying about our relationship: I keep his head in the clouds and he keeps my feet on the ground.

chiidhood

So here I am, feet planted in the place I call home now. I know deep down that uprooting our family isn’t in everyone’s best interest, that it would be a purely selfish move, but I also know that something’s shifting. The teenage version of myself who set a plan in motion and the new wife who didn’t hesitate when that plan materialized are still part of me. I still believe in growth and movement, in stretching and exploring, in stepping out of the comfort zone every now and then to feel the dash and dance of the thing that quickens your pulse.

Advertisements

Journal Day #1: Dear New York, I Miss You

“Crossroads…Sometimes you can see it as it’s happening, and you’re able to choose one way or another. Other times you may not realize you’re there until you look back, and see what a turning point it really was.”

Danielle at Sometimes Sweet is relaunching Journal Days and the excerpt above is from her first prompt. Below is my response. (If you’d like to join in, she posts prompts on her site every Sunday evening and responses, including hers, are posted on Thursdays.)

**********************************************************

Joy lovely joy

image via

I was sitting at my desk in my office of the literary agency where I worked in New York City when I got the call. I had been to the gynecologist the day before for my yearly exam. This doctor was also a fertility specialist and when he asked if we planned to have kids I said yes, that we weren’t trying at the moment but we weren’t not trying either. We were letting it happen when it would happen. He decided to take some blood because I had been off birth control for four months and he just wanted to “get the ball rolling”, whatever that meant. (I now know what that meant.) So there I was sitting at my desk, door wide open, about to cram some food in my mouth (I had been so hungry lately) when the receptionist transferred a call back to me. It was the nurse from my doctor’s office.

As I remember the conversation went something like this:

“Lara?”

“Yes?”

“This is so-and-so from Dr. Gyno’s office.”

“Oh, hi.” Something within me shifted and I pushed my food aside. It was entirely possible that she was calling to say that my blood work was fine and to make a follow-up appointment with the doctor should we have trouble once we started actually trying to get pregnant. But I knew this wasn’t the case.

“I have your blood work results,” she said. “Are you aware that you’re pregnant?”

chirp…chirp…chirp…

“Lara? Are you there?”

“Are you sure you have the right Lara?”

Heavy sigh. “Yep.”

“Are you sure you didn’t accidentally switch my files with someone else?”

Heavier sigh. “Yep.”

chirp…chirp…chirp…

“Lara?”

“How far along am I?”

“According to the blood work you’re about seven weeks along.”

More words were exchanged, a prenatal appointment was scheduled, and I hung up the phone. I was pregnant.

I made one decision quickly with no hesitation and no input from Zach. We were going back to Indiana. (Insert Jackson Five song here). I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but this decision became my crossroad, the crux of everything “before” and everything “after”.

My childless life was in New York. My mothering life is in Indiana.

My professional career was in New York. My work-from-home-part-time/mother-full-time life is in Indiana.

I was a newlywed, a mere child, in New York. I’m an adult living a responsible life in Indiana.

I was in my third trimester when we moved from New York. When I think of our last day in the city, a montage of images comes flooding to the surface like a silent film. This film is always underscored with the sadness and finality of saying goodbye, a low and slow song playing on the track. But when I think more, when I tap into what I was really feeling that day, joy seeps in. Excitement for the unknown.

I remember waking up on that cold December morning, walking the hallway from our bedroom to the kitchen, feeling the hardwood beneath my feet, catching a glimpse of the rising sun outside our wall of windows in our tiny living room. I made a cup of coffee and sat on the couch surrounded by moving boxes. I was happy there. We loved the city. I loved my job. But we both wanted to be near our parents as we welcomed this new addition into our lives. I watched the snow lightly falling outside and I was viscerally aware of the conclusion to this chapter in our lives. I had dreamed of a life here since I was a little girl, and now I was saying goodbye to my beloved city.

Later, as our life was getting packed into the U-Haul, I walked to the Starbucks down the street one last time. I went into our corner market and bought snacks for the road. I checked our mailbox and turned in our keys. As we drove away, I looked back only once.

Now, when I think back to our life in our little apartment on the Upper East Side and the day we drove away, I want to cry I miss it so. Now, I think I would have done it differently. I think I would have stayed.

Joy, Lovely Joy, Dear New York

The babe I carried in New York. She was 4 years old here.

5

Dear Mia,
Here we are, six months into 5 and part of me is still clinging to 4. While you jumped happily to 5 I quietly stole glances at a baby you in my rear view mirror.

I know why you left 4 behind without so much as a glance over your shoulder. I get it. 4 brought not one but two baby brothers. Two baby brothers who cried at all hours of the night, waking you up at midnight, 3 a.m., 6 a.m. Two baby brothers whose round eyes and tiny fingers tempted visitors away from you. Two baby brothers who needed me to hold them, feed them, change them, walk with them. And there were never enough arms. There was never enough sleep. There was never enough me. 4 was a blur. 4 is the year I wish I could do over. Somehow I would make more time. But I didn’t, and I can’t, and now I’m left with vague memories and few pictures.
The one defining memory of your year of 4 was when we took you to New York for the first time last fall, leaving your grandmothers to split duty between the boys. The joy in your smile, your step, the way you nuzzled the back of my hand with your nose, filled me to overflowing but also made it painfully clear how much we had not been with you, not devoted ourselves to you. That trip was a blessing, the way we were able to pause life as it had become, and just be. This is the reason I started this blog, really. To capture you and your brothers in the moment, to be present, to remember.
5 has brought attitude, independence, a certain lilt to your voice slanting surely to 16. You check the tags of your clothing now to be sure they say 5, though XS is acceptable. 6 is better, 4 suddenly too small. You choose your own outfits and won’t be edited so I don’t try (mostly). You talk about boyfriends and love. You tell me a boy in your class is your boyfriend and I ask what that means. “It means we play together and have fun.” And this is true so we don’t say anymore about it as you toss the stone and skip to 5 on our hopscotch.
When you were 3 you asked when you could ride a school bus. “When you’re five,” I said. And then I blinked and you were climbing the steps of the bus, waving at me from your seat. The one without a seat belt. The one whose driver I did not know. This was the first of letting go. The first of trusting the world and fate to hold you and carry you home to me.
Every day you take one more step away from 4, one more closer to 6, and I continue to play catch-up. But tonight you will still ask for an “appletizer” before dinner. Spanish-speaking people will still be from Spanishland. And you will still ask if five minutes is a short time or a long time (and won’t accept my answer of “It depends”). Tonight I will lay in bed with you and sing Winter Wonderland as I have every night for the past five and a half years, embracing our version that has morphed through the years into a Katy Perry Christmas mix.
xo,
Mommy