Before I moved to New England, autumn was my favorite season. But in the almost six falls I’ve spent here, the season’s come to mean something else to me.
Because every year, in New England August, I face down the Autumn Dread.
Winter is historically hard for me here, and never harder, I think, than last winter, when we faced down snow on snow and snow, and I found myself trapped in an especially bleak midwinter, marooned with an almost-toddler who wanted badly to play outside but couldn’t hack massive snowdrifts. My eczema flared, and my temper. It was a tough season.
Usually things aren’t that bad, but they’re pretty bad. I am a Floridian unsuited by habit or temperament to drive in icy conditions, and dread is kind of my super power in the best of conditions.
When things are going my way, I think of it as preparedness, a tendency toward being forward-thinking. I remember the toothbrush on our overnight trip, and the thank you note afterwards. It pays off.
But this anticipation is a total joy killer when it comes to New England fall. These days are glorious, and it’s all I can do not to hunch my up shoulders against the coming cold.
This very well might be our last autumn in New England, and I’m trying so hard to soak it all in. To be a little cold. To be a little more open. To even be unprepared for winter as I rejoice in autumn. Winter is probably going to be grumpy for me anyway, but fall doesn’t have to be ruined by association. For years, I’ve had people tell me how lovely New England autumns are, but I’ve only gotten glimpses between the worry and the melancholy.
This year, I aim to take note.
This is a pretty great CD as far as children’s music goes, but what we’d really like is a Johnny Karate album.
[A parishioner] said, ‘I thought the whole point of marriage was to be happy! You make it sound like a lot of work.’ She was right—marriage is a lot of work—but she was wrong to pit that against happiness.
Timothy Keller (with Kathy Keller), The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God
When I was 23, I found myself seated at a candlelit dinner table with a bunch of expat strangers in Fort Portal, Uganda. It’s a long story how I got to that inn at the feet of the Mountains of the Moon, and a long story how the Australian seated to my left had made her way there. She explained that she’d traveled the same journey, down the length of the African continent, years before, with the man who was now her ex-husband but was then the man she’d eventually marry. She was now repeating her journey alone.
It came up that I was a newlywed, and she asked about that. “Oh, it’s great,” I said glibly. “But a lot of work.” At the time, J and I were mostly spending our time together watching The Office together, painstakingly downloaded on crappy internet, and learning to cook for each other, and bickering about whether I should eat the creepily refrozen Ugandan ice cream.
"Oh, it was never a lot of work for me," the Australian responded, sipping her wine. And then, with laughing reflection, she continued, "Maybe that was the problem."
Maybe. Being a newlywed in a far-off country has its challenges, but so does marriage in all its forms.
I’ve been finally settling down to read this book, The Meaning of Marriage, in the shameful realization that, in 2008 premarital counseling, we promised our pre-marital counselor that we’d read a book a year about marriage. (Just a part of that hard work I talked about so casually a few months later.) And in that time, though I’ve managed about fifty books a year, only one has been on marriage.
This fall is going to be my season of marriage reading, you guys. Send your suggestions my way.
Look at these handsome guys. (Before a catastrophic poo required a costume change for both.)
A couple weeks ago, we headed down to Georgia so that Pip could meet the three great-grandparents he hadn’t met yet. John’s grandparents, a sight more mobile than my nana, came to visit us at the cabin where we stayed with John’s parents and sister, but to visit my nana, we had to pack up and drive a couple hours over the border to North Carolina.
On that drizzly afternoon, we were sitting there in Nana’s cramped living room, the contents of which are mostly unchanged from my childhood except that now Nana’s bed is there, too.
Nana, her Alzheimer’s advancing determinedly, kept asking if we were going back to Florida soon, and I’d repeat that we’d lived in New England these last five years or so.
And one of those times, Nana embarked on a reminiscence about her mother-in-law and how she, Nana, had almost lived in New England as a newlywed. She concluded over her barbecue sandwich, “Sometimes it feels like it was all a dream.”
It was the perfect, movie-script thing to say, and I couldn’t forget it as our son slept on the ride home, as the sun won out against clouds, as we drove along mountain roads just beginning to hint at fall, by turns unchanged from my childhood, by other stretches unrecognizably altered.
The truth is, I’ve been feeling old this summer. Or “still young,” which is almost the same. There was the high school reunion. And the fact that 28 has socked me pretty hard, 27 passing in the sleep-deprived new-baby haze that it did.
I found myself that week in Georgia finally ready to be pregnant again, and then it turned out that I wasn’t. Just the other day, a 44-year-old friend had commented, “28! There’s so much of life ahead of you.” This is a realization that should be comforting but too often feels exasperating. Yeah. There is. And I want to know how it plays out. I’m getting older, but so much is still uncertain.
Wanting to be pregnant again is about a lot of things, motives pure and impure. I want what the 44-year-old has for her kid: a wriggling tribe of sibling-playmates. I also want soft milky sighs and wee onesies and roll upon roll of chubby baby thigh. But I think these perfectly legitimate longings could be balanced and made bearable if not for one other: I want it settled. I don’t want to wait. I want to know how it plays out.
And seeing Nana in that little room, wistful over memories she couldn’t quite remember, I was reminded: It is a good thing to be patient, and to keep on dreaming.
Here are two pictures I took a couple weeks ago when we were in North Georgia and didn’t post. They’re late, but still great.
(The first is John’s grandma and grandaddy peering down at their first great-grandson, the goober pictured in picture no. 2.)
(I haven’t written much of substance and a bit, and I’m sorry. Summer reading, and lots of glorious basking in various locales with family.)
Rules: In a text post, list ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take but a few minutes, and don’t think too hard — they don’t have to be the “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you. Tag [ten] friends, including me, so I’ll see your list. Make sure you let your friends know you’ve tagged them.
- Alas, Babylon,Pat Frank
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
- Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
- Radical Homemaking: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, Shannon Hayes
- Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, Anne Lamott
- Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
- Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
- Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
- Paradise Lost, John Milton
- The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
There’s this personality test I like to give and if you know me, you’ve probably experienced it. It’s pretty standard and enlightening in a way you’d expect it to be. The first question, “What is your favorite color? List three adjectives that describe your attraction to it,” probes how you see yourself and affect others. The second, “What is your favorite animal? List three adjectives that describe your attraction to it,” illuminates your romantic situation.
I’ve given the test at least 100 times. The first and only time (it only works the first time) I took the test was on a couch in Williamsburg in 2011. I was a week into my New York tenure, trying to sweat discretely in the home of a new friend.
My favorite color was and is still green, so that part was easy. The second question I hung on to for a moment. “A cat,” I answered finally. “Because they are independent, self-sufficient and make you work for their affections. Like, if a cat likes you, you earned it.”
My little sister has always been, and is here, especially, a really beautiful writer.