I swear I haven’t disappeared from blogging this early in the game. I’ve been moving. With all our stuff. Into a house that is already fully furnished (and then some). With an almost-four-month-old baby.
I’ve had plenty of ideas for posts, but I was without Internet and a computer for almost a week and have devoted every waking hour to either trying to spend quality time with The Baby or rotating piles of crap through various rooms in the house.
Instead of coming up with interesting lists of advice or recipes, here’s a general, probably overlong update on life in the (new) TLMB household.
On Saturday, my mom drove up to watch The Baby (thank you!!!) while The Husband, a couple of friends (thank you!!!) and I loaded our hastily packed possessions into a U-Haul and then hastily unpacked them into my grandparents’ already packed house.
It has been a rough few months of wrapping my head around the sad fact that my grandparents will not be living out the rest of their days in their home, like they had hoped and planned for, but instead are languishing in a nursing home, sharing a room about the size of a college dorm in a place that smells like things no one wants to think about. They are too medically fragile for us to take care of them here (my grandfather is receiving hospice care at the nursing home). It’s the only feasible solution, but it really, really sucks.
It has also been an unusually difficult task going through all their earthly possessions, while my grandparents are still alive, and making the call about what to keep and what to sell or throw away.
To describe them as hoarders would be impolite but accurate.
While their house wasn’t a path carved out between towering columns of old newspapers, it was close. In addition to the hundreds of pounds of expired canned goods, dozens of bars of soap and overflowing closets of clothes and sheets and towels, I have found a lot of things to be sentimental about (like the miniature rolling pin I used to use to help my grandma make pie, or my great-grandfather’s portrait), and some of things I wish I hadn’t seen.
While they gave me their blessing to move in, and the only practical way to do so is to make space for me and my family, cleaning out my grandparents’ house has made me feel like an eavesdropper on a conversation I’d rather not have heard.
I’ve come across secrets (mostly mundane, but nevertheless illusion-shattering).
I’ve found reminders of how much they adored me but also how they favored me over my brother (which remains a source of tremendous guilt for me and a lingering reason we’re not all that close.)
And most painfully, I’ve found evidence of my grandmother’s great disappointment in life and the myriad ways she tried to fill a gaping psychic void: hundreds of cookbooks, dozens of hobbies and their accompanying unfinished projects, diaries documenting one dull day the same as the next. My grandmother left college to care for her ailing father, and spent the remainder of her adult life as a stay-at-home mother (which was, for her time, the expected path for just about all mothers.) She was a doting grandmother and an avid cook and always, I now suspect, suffering from depression that was certainly part biochemistry but also part unrealized ambitions.
My grandparents’ house was the setting for so many, mostly happy, days of my childhood, but looking at everything again from the perspective of a new mom, especially as a new mom who has chosen to step out of her career for awhile, has been a fraught experience.
I’ve spent the last 12 years away from this place, trying to define who I am, and so much of that has hinged on a satisfying, if not particularly special career. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed, and honestly only in the past few years have I felt anything approaching contentment with where my professional life was headed. I don’t regret stepping away from this trajectory, but I do have a lot of anxiety about how my days will unfold in the years to come.
Now I am redefining myself again, as a mother. I’m doing it while returning to this house and beginning to understand the life of a woman who loved me very much, but who now I realize was always unsatisfied to some degree or another with her lot as a homemaker.
My grandmother’s life fell short, in many ways, of what she wanted. Going through her things at the end of her life, and at the beginning of my son’s life and my new life as his mom, has made me realize just how important it is for me to honor my own happiness and fulfillment.
Everyone tells you to cherish every moment with your baby. Just yesterday my dad tearfully said, “Blink, and he’ll be 10 years old. Blink again and he’ll be heading off to college.” Of course, this is the beauty and the agony of parenthood.
While I’m devoted to spending as much time as possible soaking in every second of motherhood and trying not to blink, the past few months have taught me that it’s just as vital for me to actively seek whatever creative, intellectual and communal pursuits make me happy. Making a family doesn’t excuse me from my responsibility to myself to care for my soul.
When I’m facing the end of my life and my progeny are facing the task of going through all my stuff, I want them to know that while I made sacrifices for them, I don’t have regrets for a life not fully lived.
Does any of this make sense? Or have I spent too much time alone surrounded by boxes?