30 July 2007
This video Michael and the kids took of the new house while I was away, and it gives something of the flavour of the thing. Just think, over the next months you'll get to see this house get transformed--and you won't have to pay a penny for it!
29 July 2007
It’s a cold and rainy night here, and this Paekakariki cottage with its cozy fireplace is about a million miles away from where I was just yesterday. Ok, 8500 miles.
The trip was as effortless as you might imagine such a trip could be. It was, in fact, a day filled with loveliness. Mom drove me to work Friday morning with my bags which weighed more than I do. Then a beautiful day with my class. We had hard times, sweet times, hard times which have sweetness in them. As I said goodbye to them, I got choked up—the first time I’ve ever begun to cry in front of a class because we were parting. Then, hugging many of them goodbye, I did start to cry, in earnest. And then, as if that weren’t enough, we ended at the offices, where I had to finish packing up my old office and saying goodbye to colleagues I love. Then, one of the colleagues I love, JR, took me to the airport and hugged me goodbye, and I was on my own.
The flights were easy, decent seats, unobjectionable food, good seatmates. I got to read a book I’ve been dying to read (HP7) and watch a movie I’ve been dying to see (Becoming Jane—opening in the
The rest of this day, too, has been fantastic. The new house we bought (which I’ve just visited for the first time since buying it) is so much more beautiful than I would have guessed. Michael and I are struggling with plans for it, but it’s not a struggle of “what might work here?” but rather, “since we have so many magnificent possibilities, what would be best?” The children are fantastic. And then we ran into my new friend M on the beach with her daughter, and they came for tea and stayed for dinner. So there were friends and family, good food and good conversation, and a warm place to be on a rainy Sunday night. And now I’ll get this out to you folks. It’s 8:30, the magic hour where I get to go to sleep! (And not a second too soon, because I’ve been typing in scenes from my dreams as I fall asleep at this computer!) I hope you’re all well, and that you’re up for more waxing on about the
27 July 2007
I'm beginning this on the red line, on the way home after a too-long day. I spent the time on the orange line trying not to listen to the conversation of the people behind me which was about their Harry Potter 7 experiences and how they felt about the various revelations now that they were both finished. I am far from finished, am trying to stay as far away from HP7 as possible because otherwise I will read it rather than sleep, and that would be a bad bad thing.
But while they talked, I realized something I hadn’t thought about before. In the entire time I have been reading Harry Potter books, I did not know whether he would live or die at the end of the series. I did not know whether Rowling would let evil triumph over good as some kind of warning to us about the state of the world. And here, nearly a week after the book has come out, I still don’t fully know the answers to these questions. I know the vague outlines of what happens in that book, though, because now it’s in the water (and, ok, because I peeked just a little at the end!).
These last many years I have felt jealous of those future HP readers who can just pick up one book after another without the long wait between them for the author to, well, author them. I’ve thought about how lovely that would be, how superior to my experience of reading one then waiting, reading another then waiting, always wondering what is coming next, wondering whether the books will peter out or stay good. Starting last Saturday, everyone who picks up the first book can read all the way through the series whenever they want. They’ll know whether people say the series gets better over time or worse; they’ll know about any surprises so big that you can’t keep them under wraps.
I am, as it turns out, someone who likes to know how things are going to turn out.
But today, hearing the two people behind me talking, I had a rush of sadness for the lost anticipation of it all. Never again will there be a time when no one knows what’s going to happen. Never again will readers be able to plead or write or dream or wish in any way to influence the outcome. It’s done, over, all in the past. Somehow this hits me hard today, and it gives me a new perspective on my constant search for what comes next and my desire to read the epilogue of my life. I know that if I had the power, I would skip ahead and figure out some core questions: how long do I stay in
Since I’ve begun this essay, I’ve had my last full day in the
26 July 2007
My worlds are colliding. This makes good sense as my trip comes to an end and I cross over the liminal space between the life I used to have and the life I will have. Notice I am still not quite sure about the life I actually have now. Today I went to the
Then the walk to meet Mom at a restaurant I’ve been going to since I was 9, the restaurant where Michael and the kids and I had dinner on our first night in DC. The walk was through neighbourhoods where Perry and I have meandered on beautiful days like today, near the strip of Rock Creek Park where Michael and I almost got mugged on our last week in the US. A trip down memory lane doesn’t begin to describe a walk down
I am well reminded of all that I love here. Yesterday I had the privilege to teach about bias (especially around issues of race) with my IET students. I adore that work. This bunch of students is spectacular, and I love spending time with them, love the openness with which they approach their teaching and their learning—even about difficult subjects like the ones we’ve covered in the last couple of days. My colleagues and I have had the sense from their first week with us that we could offer them just about any piece of curriculum and that they would look at us hopefully and ask for more. Last night at dinner, MH wanted to know my plans, wanted me to get my tenure and come back and teach together again. We laughed and laughed and talked about his parents and my kids and the world of the single man and the married woman. And I miss talking with him, miss learning from him, miss it all. Lunch with my mom underlines that. What a delight to get the chance to just connect with her in the middle of an ordinary day. There are relational pleasures unfolding all around me.
And I am well reminded of what I dislike here. As I write, I’m sitting at metro center, waiting the 10 minutes for my train to come. It’s busy here, even at this non-rush hour time, people pushing their way up escalators and into trains that are too crowded.. The stations are lovely in their own way, and they are also, in many ways, fundamentally ugly. The best part of the orange line is when it runs down a median strip in the middle of the highway. That is high scenery for me these days, because there are trees on either side of the highway, and I like the green. I miss a commute that leaves me breathless, not because of the crowds, but because of the hills and sea. I miss my friends in NZ. I miss D, who came for breakfast just before we left, and F and H, who were too busy to make it work.
And maybe the weirdest thing of all, is that I’m watching who I am in these different places. What does this context here enable? What does it curtail? I have loved hanging out with the folks I hang out with here, loved the doing I’ve been doing. But why is it that I’ve been working on this blog entry for four days, that I can’t seem to find anything new to write about, that I’m going in circles again and again? When we walked through the garden of our new house for the first time, B (the then owner) said, “What do you do?” I sat on a bench in a hidden grove in the backyard and, without thinking about it, said, “I’m a writer.” And more than a writer, I’m a be-er there. I know how to do less and be more. This is a novel skill for me, and it’s no effortless action to let go all of the energy that has tended to go into production and have it go into something I can’t even name as reflection. It isn’t anything with a name. It’s just be-ing.
Here folks want answers about what I’m going to do and for how long and under what circumstances. They want me to be doing all the time—which isn’t so odd, since I’ve come here to do a variety of things. But I know this emphasis on doing isn’t because I’m in town for the tiny stretch of 40 days; it’s because that’s the currency here. Busy busy busy. I am busy busy busy. And when I say I am busy, I’m not sure I mean that as a particular state. I think here in this DC metro area, I = busy. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to equal something else, was really worried about that when we first moved. Turns out that I don’t only have the capacity do just be—I actually quite like it.
So, I’ll teach my last three days at Mason. Tomorrow, on my last night, I’ll go to the state dinner for education at the New Zealand embassy, and I’ll watch the two worlds crash into one another as people there try to figure out whether I’m fish or fowl—in the US, of the US, in the NZ space, moving towards NZ. And then in three days I’ll pack up my existential crisis (wouldn’t want to forget it under my brother’s bed), get on a plane, pull out the Harry Potter book that awaits me, and I’ll read my way to the west coast. And then, I’m guessing, I’ll be mostly done with the book, and I’ll be my way to New Zealand, where I’ll hug my children, kiss my husband, roll around on the floor with my dog, and then head to my new house to sit in my new living room/ lounge and watch the waves.
20 July 2007
Michael here…settling in to the end of the first week back home in NZ, without J who is still in the
Naomi is frustrated because she wants to claim ownership over this room or that room, this nook or that cranny. “Most of this is going to be different,” I explain to her, as our conversations with our architect have kicked in to gear. But I realize that this point isn’t completely accurate. Yes, the rooms will change and the house will get a bit of a polish. The sense that I have as I pull up the driveway, though, will become familiar. The way the echoes of the waves come and go, shift in and out depending on the direction and intensity of the wind will all become more expected and less surprising. The beauty of the sunsets will become more nuanced with each successive show out the front windows. These things aren’t going to be renovated or removed. They exist in us now, for as long as we exist in this space, and will become more of us and who we are in this land so far away.
Naomi has been sick – or something – these past few days. “My tummy hurts…(moan moan) has been her most frequent utterance. “There’s a bug floating around school,” Mr. Marsden, the principal at PK school informed me as I dropped off A at school yesterday and brought N back home with me, just to be safe. Thankfully, nothing more than complaints and moans. She’s eating a bit, drinking, taking it easy, but none of the un-savories that don’t need mentioning. I feel there may be other reasons for her discomfort. It’s hard to be back here in some ways. It’s hard to be without J. It’s hard to miss things and people that aren’t with us and be happy here at the same time. Transitions have always been tricky for Naomi. First it was the change of Sunday to Monday, and back to preschool. Later it was from School to Summer holiday. All of the effects of the transitions have softened and many have faded to a place inside of her where she manages them herself. But this feels like some of the transition stuff, coming to rest in her belly. She’s happy to be in NZ but sad to be away from the
18 July 2007
Today on the red line, in a train that was too crowded for me to board, I saw a little girl, sitting in the crowd and staring out into space. She was probably 12, dirty blonde shoulder-length hair, with the watchful but not frightened look of a city child. For a minute, there on the platform, I got her confused with me. This happens for me from time to time, as I’ll catch a glimpse of a kid that reminds me so much of my childhood self that it gives me a start. I have a magical-thinking moment, and imagine that the little girl turns and is me. And then I’d be faced with what to do next.
I suppose that’s one of the great psychological questions of our lives, isn’t it? What do we do with the little child who was us when we meet her? In an instant on that platform, I imagined pushing my way through the crowd, sitting next to the little girl on the ugly orange seats, and wondering what I should tell her about what is coming for her. What kind of resilience could I build in her, what kind of words of comfort or warning might I offer? The best I can ever think, as I wonder about this, is to go to her and tell her, “It’s all going to be ok, better than OK, better than you ever thought it might be.” I would love for her to have that for the dark times, for those times that all adolescents have when they are lost in their own pain, for those times all little children have when they fear monsters—and some of them are real. But then the girl in the subway turns, and I look into eyes that are blue or teeth too straight and see the little me disappear, and I’m left as me, an adult on a subway platform, waiting for a better train.
So, if little Jenny doesn’t ever appear in a metro train, little Naomi does sometimes. And so do little Aidan and little Julio and little Minh. These children sit in subways and classrooms and kitchens, and all they have is the experiences they’ve had thus far—and the adults who are there to help (or hurt or ignore) them. Every day is vital, because every day is a key percentage of the experiences they’ve ever had. What could I say or do now that could make lives better for the adult Aidans and Julios and Naomis and Minhs of tomorrow?
The tricky part is that if I could go back and talk to myself at 12, I would be right to assure her that my life is better than I ever imagined at 12. But can I promise that to Minh or Julio or Aidan or Naomi? I can’t. And maybe that’s the other most difficult psychological work of our lives: how do we care for children really well, and also let them create their own futures? Naomi wants to know: Where will she go to high school? Will either of her parents die while she’s still a kid? Will she get a horse for her 11th birthday? Can she have a party on August 4th? Will global warming kill all the fish in the sea in her lifetime? In her children’s lifetime? I tell her I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.
So maybe that’s the other draw to little Jenny on the subway: I have an idea, with some decent measure of certainty, how the first 37 years turn out. There aren’t that many children you can talk to with certainty. And maybe, just maybe, thinking I can look after my younger self makes me believe—somewhere in the most magical places of my brain—that my older self is there somewhere looking after me. I’ll see an old woman with white hair on a street corner and she’ll catch my eye and smile like we’re sharing a secret. And I’ll know that she is me at 70 or 80, that she remembers this time when I’m 37 and don’t know what to do about my tenure bid at GMU or my new house plans in New Zealand. She remembers when my kids were teenagers and knows who they married and why. She has held my grandchildren, and knows which of these details that so trouble me today ended up washing away in the tide—and which ones changed the shape of my life. I like to think of her, thinking of young(ish) Jennifer, and I like to think of what she’d say. “It’s going to be OK, better than OK, better than you ever thought it might be.”
16 July 2007
It is Sunday night here, Monday midday for Michael and the kids. I’m on a train back from
Today Michael goes back to work for the first time in weeks, and the kids begin Term three. I have gotten email and the surreal monk-e-mail from both children (now Aidan has an email too: firstname.lastname@example.org). But they also seem to be doing fine: they seem to have beat the worst of the jetlag, seem to be delighted to see their friends again. Aidan’s best friend, B, whose birthday is the day before Aidan’s, saved his birthday party until Aidan came home. Naomi spent the weekend with her friend F, and was delighted to catch up on the news from the village. Perry, I’m told, is unchanged. Mostly the children are just missing me. They want me to come home.
I want me to come home, too. On the plane from Boston to New York last night, I found myself wishing, wishing, wishing I were on the 13 hour flight from LA to Auckland. I’m tired of sleeping in other people’s beds, tired of waking confused, tired of wearing the same clothes again and again. And in some ways, I’m ready to go and make my beginning back in
And, of course, it’s more complicated than that. I’m excited about teaching again, have missed teaching deeply. I’m excited about seeing these students—whom I love—and the colleagues (whom I love even more than the students!). It’ll be good to get to have long conversations with Mom now that I’m staying at her place. I’ll get to spend some time with people I haven’t spent enough time with yet. I love it here, too.
We especially love
10 July 2007
Today I woke up in Boston, at JW’s apartment. This wake-up was marked by the cool summer breeze coming in the window and the cacophony of sounds. In no other city has it been cool enough to sleep with the windows open, so this is our first recall of serious city noise (and here in a place that wouldn’t be the loudest in the city, in a city that isn't the loudest in the country!). People calling to each other, trucks backing up, carts full of things being pulled over brick sidewalks. Sirens, shouting, screeching breaks. Even the birds here are unexpectedly loud as though to be heard above the din. And this is in the hours before construction begins on the apartment downstairs, or down the block (which has just begun, at 7:38, the workday announced by the buzzing of a circular saw).
This is the final leg of the journey for all of us but me. My family heads home from here on Thursday (and I stay on to the end of the month to teach). I am very worried about Michael and the kids for the two weeks between their return and mine. I fear that now at last the children have begun to understand that we live on the other side of the world from all of our family and long-time friends. Aidan discovered this on Sunday evening as we were getting into a car to the airport hotel where we stayed before our plane yesterday. Kissing my brother and mother goodbye, he began to cry a cry I’ve almost never seen from him before. Generally, Aidan is quick to rage and anguish—and just as quick to recover. His crying tends to be loud and expressive. These tears, though, are tears of deep sadness, tears that come quietly and without bidding or fanfare. “I can’t believe I’m not going to see my uncle for a YEAR!” he says, weeping. “Why do we have to live all the way around the world from all of our family? Why can’t we move back to America?” This is the new refrain of the trip, begun Sunday night and continuing, so far.
Aidan is fine most of the time, and then something will remind him, and suddenly he’s in misery. “My body is going to make me cry again any minute now,” he’ll warn, and then the tears come—not angry, not insulted, not frustrated, just sad sad sad.
Naomi’s sadness seems mostly connected to the thought of a plane ride across the sea and to two weeks (and three soccer games) without me. She wants me to change my plans and she knows I can’t change my plans, so she is a bundle of quiet wanting. So Aidan will begin to cry, “Why can’t we move back to America!” and Naomi’s voice will go quiet and quivery, “I really really really want you to come home with us, Mommy.” And there are two sad children who need hugs.
So we give them hugs and talk about sadness and healing and the unexpectedly-fast passing of time. And we recognize that their pain is totally legitimate, and we feel sad at their sadness as we hold them. And most of the time they’re cheerful and sweet, but each sad wandering makes me worry more about Michael and his return to a winter-cold, heat-free house, without a decent support-system for the last two weeks of the month.
It has been a remarkably good, if exhausting, trip. I’m really glad we were all able to come here and form the memories and connections we’ve made. AND I worry that it was all a terrible mistake, that now the children will have a harder time with re-entry, that now they’ll find themselves unhappy in our new land, just as we’ve mostly finished waiting for the other shoe to drop on their transition (and just as we own not one but two houses in NZ). So, that’s a cheery thought at the end of a holiday. There are many many more thoughts ahead, much processing to do of everything we’ve found here. But now the children are up and eating US breakfast cereal (“Oh how I missed these!” they’ll say), so I’ll go and spend this time with them.
09 July 2007
04 July 2007
When I woke up this morning, I didn’t have any idea where I was. This was not just the existential confusion I seem to be experiencing most of the time lately. I was totally disoriented. I checked for basics. Michael sleeping next to me? Yes. Kids somewhere in the room? No. That meant I was in a place with two rooms. I got pretty quickly that we were in the
That confusion is not limited to the first few minutes of waking. I’m disoriented here in the
After finishing up my gig on Friday, P (who was over from
P and Dad and my family took Saturday and braved the crowds to take a bus tour of the Big Apple. We took the Staten Island Ferry across and back to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and
it and read the memorials, saw the missing persons posters, and were reminded again of the horror and waste of that tragedy, a horror and waste which began the
Here, in fact, I am sprung back into the barely-managed chaos of my former life. Here is the life of a consultant. I got to hang out with my Kenning partners, eat delicious food, stay in swank hotels, drink cosmopolitans (which I only do with them). I got to stand at the front of a room of leaders and try to get them to laugh—and to learn—from what we were saying. I got to do work I love with people I love in magnificent conference rooms that cost more than my entire wedding.
Here is the life as a cousin in a big family. I got to stay at my Aunt P’s house, got to hang with my favorite cousin T, hear about weddings to come and babies just born. I got to have dinner with J and J and breakfast with little L and K. My kids got to play with their cousins, paddle in their grand aunt’s kayak, laugh with their grandfather.
Here is the life of an upper-middle class white woman in the
Then it was back into full-on family time. And I get to use two cell phones, a laptop, and two palm pilots to manage my schedule, have to pencil in dinner dates and playdates with the many many people who want to see us, finish book proposals while xeroxing expense receipts. This is a full-on, all-out country, and stepping back into it brings me racing along—alive and happy and overwhelmed and exhausted. And the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a week is the 10 minute stretch of river and wetlands on the train from
02 July 2007
An interesting story: we walked up to Central Park from our hotel at 42nd and 5th yesterday afternoon, right past the really cool Apple store at 5th and the S end of the park. Before we got there, we started to see police, barricades, tv news trucks, and began wondering what the tragedy of the day was. As we began wading our way through the edges of the crowd, we realized that the lines and crowd had formed for the opening of the sale of the iPhone, which was officially on sale at 7pm. It was amazing to see the crowd and the to do for a phone. We passed by a few other stores -- AT&T Stores, I think...the carrier for the iPhone in the US -- that also had lines of people queuing up to purchase the latest and greatest doo dad for consumption. One of the thing that J noticed in looking at the newspapers here are the succession of ads for people to cast of the old latest and greatest and to get the newest (or newer) latest and greatest, dropping off your old phone in the box at the Whole Foods to re-issue to emergency personnell, to donate your old laptop to the local school (that has piles of outdated equipment with no one to service them), etc.
We have another week and a half + in the US -- today and tomorrow in NY, next week in DC, and then Boston. There's a part of me that's really looking forward to the rest of our trip -- to seeing my family more, to seeing friends in Boston that we haven't seen. But I'm also already ready to go back. We now own barbara's house -- I guess it's our house now. and we've got all of that to deal with once we return. And while I'm ready to go back to NZ, I'm going back without J, which is hard in a few ways. Lots of people ask us questions about life there, with the "What do you like/What bothers you about it there/What do you miss?" and I find myself answering those questions about NZ but asking them to myself about life in the US. Just babbling a bit, I guess.
It is very pretty here, this part of LI. Blue skies and cool air today. So many people, though. So many cars, so much pollution and waste, suca resource intense realities of life and society here. (Sigh.) Still trying to make sense of all this.