Mama Bird

They’re gone–today. The last two of my children, twins, have left home for college. I have known my youngest boys would grow up and move out for eighteen and a half years. As a concept, it is nothing new. It is not a surprise. But now that it has happened, it feels distinctly new and very much like a surprise.

I have more tools available to cope with this transition than my great-grandmother, my grandmother–even my mother. The internet is full of empty nest resources: blogs, books, and interviews bursting with mother birds detailing their new careers, new husbands, new pets, or new haircuts–things to fill the void. None of it resonates. I don’t want a new career or to leave my husband. I don’t want to get another dog and I don’t want to get bangs.

The plethora of empty nest tools don’t seem useful because I believe I am in shock. I knew, as a concept, that I wouldn’t be hand-washing baby bottles forever, that the children wouldn’t be un-trainable on the potty forever, that I wouldn’t be making sure they didn’t eat sand in the sandbox forever, that I wouldn’t be driving from baseball game to lacrosse game to basketball practice to theater rehearsal–forever. But it damned well seemed like it.

The societal expectation is that I should either be sad, hiding in a corner with a blanket or ecstatically happy, planning a trip around the world. This is so American, as is the phrase, “empty nester.” Since I am an American, I should feel right at home. What I feel is a something I don’t yet have a name for, a something that is describable only as an absence. What will my empty nest be filled with, this new hole punched in the Universe of time? What will I do with our old four-bedroom farmhouse that held generations of children, its rock-dotted lawn which in its one hundred and fifty year history supported horses, dairy cows, and crops of strawberries? This is what I ask myself. Other people ask me too. They ask, because I have a track record of being prepared for everything and having an outfit to match.

Throughout the summer when anyone from my in-laws to relative strangers at yoga class asked how I would fill my time and home once Spencer and Parker left, I shrugged, an unsatisfying gesture that encapsulated my inner turmoil. How could I say that my brain was frantically sifting through solutions to distract myself from their impending absence? I filled the final weeks before dormitory move-in imagining a myriad of solutions. Like turning our back yard into a peony farm, a pear farm, or an art installation comprised of large circles cut into the soil filled with different varieties of moss. I entertained myself with obvious farm names: “Empty Nest Peonies,” “Empty Nest Pears,” and “Oh My God, I’ve Gone Insane and Planted Large Circles of Moss Because My Children Have Moved Out and I Don’t Know Who I Am Anymore.” (The website would be simply, “The Empty Nest Garden.) One particularly bright August morning, after three iced-coffees, I considered opening a bakery selling only Bundt cakes covered in chocolate drizzle. (“Cake Hole.”)

I am not prone to drama. I am prone to planning. But, after raising three sons over twenty-three years, I am also prone to be a little tired. As quickly as the peonies, pears, moss, and cakes hatched, I kicked those empty ideas out of the nest. For the first time in my life, I have no plan. I am a mama bird without eggs, living in a nest un-feathered.

With the arrival of a baby there are, if you are lucky, baby showers and special maternity clothes and at least one person, your mother or a very close friend, who looks past all the baby brouhaha, a very astute person, who looks you deep in the eye, and addresses your unspoken fear and uncertainty by announcing that everything is going to be OK. That yes, the baby (or babies) is going to change things but you’re made of strong stuff and you’ve GOT THIS. Oh, how I loved my cousin taking one look at my exhausted face after birthing the twins and kicking each and every member of our well-wishing, celebratory family out of my hospital room. I recall with great appreciation the comment from our pediatrician at the first post-hospital check-up, “You’re doing a great job!” I glowed. I could really use a version of these now.

Growing up, I would sometimes overhear my mother’s friends proclaiming the wish to live on an island–alone.  Then they would sigh. These were usually women who had little boys. I have had versions of the island–places I could hide. It has been a sun porch, an old leather sofa I tucked under the eaves in my bedroom, and during the preadolescence years, the bathroom where I would organize lipsticks by color in the hope that a small drawer of order would tame the testosterone-fueled chaos on the other side of the locked door. (It didn’t.)

Now that my entire house is essentially my own island, I am in shock. Our house includes a living room and a den. All of our sons are over six feet tall. Besides their bedrooms, while they were here, they also commandeered both the den and living room, sprawling on sofas. Now, there is now just me, my husband, and our dog. The three of us share a bed. The hard truth is that the three of us have been living on our island’s periphery for decades, giving the boys most of the space.

It is tempting to move. Clearly, we only need one room big enough for a bed, a bathroom that can double as a greenhouse for all my potted ferns, a tea kettle, a hot plate, and a washer and dryer. Then again, on an island for three, are clothes really necessary? Pretty soon I’ll be like some of the elderly ladies I see in the grocery store pushing a half-cart. In its basket: one head of lettuce, two peppered chicken breasts, and a quart of Ensure. Great. Besides internalized misogyny, now I have internalized ageism. I’ve leapt from vital to unvital with the purchase of two college food plans.

Absence is frightening. In America, having children is considered a blessing. Not having them, is considered, if not a curse–something close. Especially for women. And yet.

And yet, I wonder if the reason I have repeatedly rejected every bursting-nest idea (did I forget to mention opening a Bed and Breakfast? “Empty Nest Beds”) is because I want to fully embrace the emptiness without feeling like The Invisible Woman: the woman who is not actively mothering. I imagine we un-mothering mothers are like an Olympic track runner who has retired but is still super-fit and sees hurdles everywhere. The impulse to jump must be strong. I want, somehow, to resist the impulse to jump, to over-mother my newly grown children in a huge, tight embrace of protection and love and so I resort to trolling their Instagram feeds. I aim to be the sort of mother who allows mistakes to be made by my newly winged boys and by me. I aim to welcome the absence not as a void to be filled but as a glowing circle that I melt into like a tight muscle yielding beneath a massaging hand.

It’s worth a shot. But check in with me in a year, I’ll probably have a puppy and bangs.

Heat Wave

The weatherman cometh

“Sunday we’re cranking up the heat and humidity AGAIN, with “feels like” temperatures well above 100 degrees. This heat can be dangerous, but only if you’re not taking care of yourself. You know what to do!”

-very stoked Connecticut meteorologist

I know exactly what to do. Pack a bag and hop a plane to Menton, Provence. Which, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph is “the thinking person’s Côte-d’Azur.”

Ooooo. 

“It has the lazy sunshine zest, two vast beaches of sand and shingle, unambiguous light and Alps dropping direct to the sea – but without the airhead assumptions of more ring-a-ding spots farther west. Wintering British nobles long ago set a tone, establishing gardens, good manners and Belle-Epoque elegance.”

Sounds f’ing brilliant. I detest ring-a-ding.

Very expensive house on the coast of France.

Which is why I picked it as my delusion of grandeur.  Like the central theme of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh (from which I co-opted this post’s title), I need a little self-deception to deal with life. Especially the hot and sticky parts.

I have a fool-proof three-part plan.

1. Remodel entire house to resemble a French chateau

O.K.-remodeling the entire house is not possible. I have twins going to college in 6 weeks. But hanging IKEA tab-top panels on the inside of our side-porch was possible. They flap in the wind just like IKEA tab-top panels on chateau side-porches.

2. Install a pool.

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HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. See: “Twins going to college.” Instead, we tossed our English Springer spaniel Gigi into our car, drove 15 minutes to a lake you’re not supposed to swim in, and engaged in some very warm water frolicking. And while my husband and I were still sweaty and hot, Gigi was happy. But as everyone knows who has a dog, if the dog is happy–everybody is happy.

3. Drink

Dieu merci! A delusion that is possible.

Rosemary Margarita

2 oz your favorite silver tequila

1 oz rosemary infused simple syrup (bring to boil over medium heat 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water, and 6 fresh rosemary sprigs. Simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Combine all in a cocktail shaker

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Garnish, pour and add seltzer to the top.

Voila!

Engage in Delusion of Grandeur. Drink. Repeat.

The Reluctant Curator

LOve can make you do crazy things.

LIKE when your mother asks you to come over because she and your father are selling their house and downsizing. Only love can make you ignore the overwhelming feeling of a boa constrictor squeezing the reluctant yes out of your body when she says she has a collection of boxes from the attic with your name on them.

I speak metaphorically. The twenty or so boxes had other names on them. Old names. The names of my dead relatives: I knew what was in those boxes: china teacups and old silver. Formal objects no one uses anymore.

I’m part of the IKEA generation. We’re comfortable breaking things. My favorite mug has a giant chip in it.  My desk is full of scrapes and gouges. I once forgot a stainless steel teapot on the stove and it melted. Just the teapot–but the stove would have been soon to follow but for my late-but-timely skill turning off the burner. When I chip all the mugs or need a new teapot, I take a trek to IKEA: Scandinavian Land of the Allen Wrench where they design the packaging of a dining room table for ten to fit inside a Mini Cooper.

I admit to being seduced by IKEA’s international Marketplace. It’s chock-full of cheap chic dishes and orchids that always make me think I can keep one alive more than a week. IKEA is what our grandmothers called the Five and Ten, but updated and with Swedish meatballs.

But some things just can’t be replaced. Like mothers. There I was, face-to-face with mine in one of two rooms that were my parents’ newly downsized home surrounded by my family tree in boxes. The no I had mentally constructed as a shield on the drive down dissolved into air. She’d seen resistance on my face and was pouting.  I was a good daughter, wasn’t I? Was that a tear in the corner of her eye?

So, I packed my Mini Cooper with all twenty boxes and when I wasn’t looking, my father wedged in an Arts and Crafts chair with a seat in need of re-caning. When I reminded him I had a two hour drive home and now I couldn’t see out the rear window he said, “Don’t go backwards.”

Excavating the boxes’ contents on my dining room table the next day, it hit me that what used to be someone else’s functional object, was now mine, a broken object in need of fixing. Including: a fully crazed set of 1910 bone china, one ton of threadbare linens, forty floral mismatched teacups and saucers, and one doll with a cracked head.

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I won’t tell you what happened to the floral teacups because my mother has spies everywhere. But I kept the mostly unusable crazed china, washed the linens, and made plans to have the chair re-caned. I must have felt really guilty about the floral teacups because I felt a bizarre flush of excitement at the idea of restoring the doll with the cracked head. This was weird because 1. I saved no dolls from my own childhood and 2. dolls can be creepy.

Which is exactly what my 18-year-old twins said when I took her out of the box with my name on it. There she was in her creepy glory: a 117-year-old 14-inch leather-bodied doll with frozen joints. Her head was wrapped in a linen napkin. Peeling away the napkin revealed a yellowed face held together with Scotch tape. Placing her carefully on the table, I reached into the box and pulled out an entire Victorian wardrobe of handmade, doll-sized custom clothes. I was smitten. I reached into the box one last time and unwrapped a velvet hat. If I wasn’t already committed to restoring the doll, the hat did the trick. The size of my palm, it was moss green and accented with jaunty feathers.

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Love can make you do crazy things, like drive to a doll hospital in a downpour. While I drove I imagined the doll hospital lady removing the doll from its bag, cradling its cracked head and saying “How wonderful, she’s worth thousands!” I imagined selling the doll and buying my parents a bigger place where they could keep all their heirlooms.

I was still engaged in my fantasy once I arrived. I snapped photos of the doll hospital lady, a diminutive woman with meaty hands, removing the doll from its bag and zooming in for a close-up—photographic proof for my mother that I am a good daughter—that I was not prepared for what came next. She swiftly grabbed the doll’s face with one hand and cracked it like an egg shooting its eyes out onto the counter as if they were a pair of yolks.

I almost fainted.

While holding my doll’s eyes in her hand, the doll doctor spoke on the phone with her sister in Florida, a collector of antique doll clothes. With her other hand, she held the velvet chapeau up to the light. “You should see the hat. You’d die.” Then my doctor looked at me, the phone attached to her ear with her shoulder and said, “You wouldn’t consider selling the clothes, would you? The doll isn’t worth very much. The head was an early example of plastic–celluloid. She’ll need a new head.”

Then she held the doll’s eyes up to the light and said, “But we can re-use these—they’re hazel, like yours.”

I felt a little nauseous. I swallowed and stared at the broken doll on the counter.

“She was my great-grandmother’s,” I said. Adding the new refrain to my vocabulary since my mother downsized and outsourced her heirlooms, “I want it restored.” Then I said something I never imagined saying for any reason whatsoever:

“I’ll take a new head and I’m keeping the clothes.”

My doctor sighed and hung up the phone and I felt the potential of paying my parents to keep their heirlooms fly out the window.

But because of love, I did as I was told. While the doll was being operated on, I went home and soaked all her clothes for two days in a bucket of hot water and Oxyclean. Afterwards, I air-dried the clothes on a towel and ironed them. But because I’m part of the IKEA generation, first I had to buy a new iron. I paid the $150 doctor’s bill, photographed all the doll’s Victorian clothes, packed them in tissue, and attached the tag the doctor gave me, to the doll’s foot, detailing its age and details of restoration.

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I never showed my mother the eye yolks on the table photos. Just the restored doll herself, with her new head and original eyes, the same color as mine. A long time from now, my sons will just love inheriting her. Because love can make you do crazy things.

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Expert doll repairs by Calling All Dolls in Cobalt, CT

 

8 Things To Be Thankful For

1. I’m thankful that I didn’t kill my teeny lemon tree so now it’s a small lemon tree.

And it actually has lemons.

2. I’m thankful for mammogram technicians with warm hands.

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3. That Christmas is coming and with it the requirement that my sons appear in a photo with me.

4. I am thankful that this snapping turtle didn’t eat my dog.

5. Extraordinarily thankful for Bowl-sized margaritas.

6. That I get to live in a place that looks like this. . .

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. . .and this.

 

7.  That my dog is an excellent reader with exquisite taste. Also, that she is a feminist.

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8. Finally, I am thankful that I am married to this man, who helped me raise those three sons, makes a mean margarita, and lets the dog sleep on the bed.

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Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

 

Back in the summer of 1985 I was a ballet-studying, boyfriend-less high school junior living in Virginia. The last thing I wanted was rain. Even in Virginia, where it got so hot people don’t even say the word, it’s like a hex.

At sixteen, I wanted sun, sun, and more sun. I did the sun-dance. All the better to lie beneath while coating my extra-white legs with baby oil for that elusive tan that was never to be mine.

But I had hope.

New Englanders have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Well, I don’t know about the rest of New England, but here in Connecticut it’s been seven days of unrelenting sun. No longer a sixteen-year old after that sweet-spot of the almost-burn: skin that wouldn’t peel and settle into what we all thought of as the Base Tan, I’m older and wiser and discovered bronzer.

And I discovered the beauty of rain.

Finally, after our Connecticut all-sun heat-wave had me taking cold showers a couple times a day followed by drying myself in front of a fan. . . they say that rain is coming. And, oh, how I’ve missed it.

Even if the sweet peas taking over my mailbox don’t seem to miss it.

Or, the grapevines taking over the abandoned ladder don’t seem to miss it.

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They say rain is coming, but when I look up, all I see is sun.

I Blame the Lilacs

It’s not my fault I did no housework this week- it’s the lilacs’.

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Yeah, OK, it’s MY fault I bought the house with the giant lilac bush that smells like heaven and it’s MY fault I placed my desk under the window that looks out over the giant lilac bush and MY fault that I opened the window. But it’s the lilacs’ fault that they magically opened in the warm spring sunshine causing me. . .

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to forget about writing and doing the laundry and cooking and shopping and instead. . .

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run outside and smell them.

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And because I was already outside, I got further distracted and took about fifty pictures of the planet sized flowering quince covered in bumblebees and hummingbirds. This caused me to be late picking up one of my sons from school.

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Afterwards, I walked around the yard like I’d just had lilac-infused alcohol. I was a lilac zombie with a camera and took this picture. . .

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and this one.

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And I went on a bike ride and all I saw was purple

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I’ve been outside all week. The wind is blowing the writing off my desk. The laundry is touching the ceiling.

It’s a relief that I have to shut the window. . .the forecast is calling for rain.

 

 

 

 

Pretend Paris

Paris Welcomes You! 

I’ve always wanted to go to Paris and just after we were married I proposed a trip to Europe. Greg proposed that we begin having children. We were twenty-four years old. I was ready for a traveling adventure. Greg was ready for adventure of another kind. “I don’t want to be an old dad.” (Remember, I said we were TWENTY-FOUR.) He also said, “Europe will still be there when the kids are grown.” It was hard to argue.  Today, our three sons are 22, 17, & 17. One has moved out and the other two will graduate high school next year. And lo and behold, Europe is still there. But with an old farmhouse wanting our attention, twins with college plans, and all three needing our resources, Europe will have to wait.

Friday afternoon Greg and I drove across the Connecticut border and the road sign that I pretended said, Paris Welcomes You!  actually read, Massachusetts Welcomes You! 

Greg surprised me for my birthday with an overnight stay in Boston- a city that could never be confused with Paris- or could it?

It rains in Boston, just like I’ve heard it does in Paris.

Boston has shrubbery shaped like gumdrops, just like Paris.

And Boston has bakeries.

You can sit at the window inside Tatte and watch people wrangling umbrellas while you sip a cup of Earl Grey. The owner designed her cafe to make if feel as if you were being hugged. I can think of nothing better than to be hugged by a cinnamon bun.

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How much for the entire platter, s’il vous plait?

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So, Paris has Jardin du Luxembourg. Boston has the Common.

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Does it get foggy in Paris?

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I know for damn sure that Paris doesn’t have our friend Sean, head chef of the Revere Hotel’s restaurant the Rebel’s Guild, who brought us plate after plate of deliciousness. (My present to you: order the Skillet Cornbread with Maple Butter.) My cocktail was the Midnight Ride. Thank you very much.

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They had kings in Paris, but we had a king-sized bed in Boston. Also, champagne.

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French women are skinny, but our Boston hotel had a skinny mirror. I’m really going to miss it.

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Saturday morning was beautiful, not a raindrop in sight. Perfect for walking. . .and walking. . .and walking. We walked all the way to the MFA.

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The Louvre doesn’t have Mark Rothko. (Or this dude with his Tatte bag, who kind of looks like he needs a hug.)

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Before Greg and I left the MFA, I headed to the bookshop and performed one of my new magic rituals. With my manuscript, Blueprint for Daylight, currently being pitched to publishers by my agent, I find the non-fiction section and create a space where it will-one-day-if-I-pray-to-the-publishing-gods be found. Weird? I am certainly weird. But if it works, you saw it here first, all you aspiring writers. Then I take a picture and sit with my phone for way too long drawing a book spine with my finger and typing the title.

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The only beer I like is a Corona Light on a 100 degree day after working all afternoon in the garden. But after walking seven miles we needed a pick-me up. And Greg says Corona isn’t beer. Whatever, Guinness Man.

This Blood Orange Wheat radler was SO GOOD.

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Do French women take pictures of their feet when the nail polish on their toes is chipped? Probably not. But after our trip to Boston, where I walked in the rain, drank champagne, enjoyed pastries, art, and came home with books-it felt like the best birthday getaway, no plane ticket necessary.

Europe will still be there after we save enough to finish remodeling our farmhouse and the twins graduate college. . . but until then, I’ve got Boston.

New Year’s Eve: New Year, Still Me

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” -Anthony G. Oettinger, Linguist

In less than nine hours it will be 2018. In the spirit of Type A procrastinators everywhere (yes, it’s a thing), I wonder:

Do I have enough time to achieve all my 2017 resolutions?

In my head spins the refrain to the John Lennon Christmas classic, Happy Xmas (War is Over), reminding me that I haven’t done most of what I thought I would: and what have you doneanother year over . . . My palms are sweaty, my right eyelid twitches. It’s been a busy year. I’ve done a lot. But those resolutions I write every year as the ball is about to drop, balancing a re-filled glass of wine between my fingers, are calling me from the deep part of my subconscious where they went before Happy New Year! was shouted with streamers.

Time to take stock. Written on hastily ripped graph paper in orange crayon at 11:55 PM December 31, 2016:

2017 Definitely Will Happen Resolutions

1. Weigh 125 lbs.

Unless I have a limb removed,* this is impossible.

Solution: Might as well enjoy that Lindt gold-wrapped chocolate ball staring at me on my desk.

2. Have book published. 

Despite best efforts, this is not something in my control. My much edited and rewritten memoir manuscript is presently in the actual hands of a literary agent and in the metaphorical hands of the Memoir Goddess who I christen: Mary Karr. (Can you think of a better name? Mary Karr has penned three brilliant chronological memoirs which are evidence that it can be done. Well.)

Solution: Accept that I have given this my best effort and will either have a book deal in 2018, or need to find an agent willing to take a chance on my work. Buy new notebook and begin writing second memoir.

3. Organize papers, including the mountain in the closet, sitting on top of the filing cabinet. 

I am a paper-person. I write long-hand. I still write checks. I write letters, insert them into envelopes, and affix stamps. I use a spiral-bound calendar made out of paper. I do not trust digital calendars, I trust trees. I live in a papery world and I like it. But is saving every utility bill and mortgage statement necessary when that part of life is online, and, we can safely assume, not a fad?

Solution: Plug in the shredder, feed it every paid invoice, and burn the ribboned heap in the fireplace in a symbolic gesture to simplicity. (Make sure not to shred entire family’s Social Security cards, which I know are in that pile. Also, make sure the flue is open.)

4. Catch up on reading. Stop reading multiple books at once.

My mother has a fantastic list of every book she’s read since the 1980s but more importantly, she finishes every book she begins. I aspire to this sort of organization. I have a leaning tower of books in several areas of my house: the nightstand (obviously), the kitchen counter, the living room book table (I don’t drink coffee), and sometimes piles appear on the staircase and the washing machine. I seem unable, however, to stay engaged with some books. Mid-read I will often reach for a book of poetry or a literary journal. This happens most with books people give me.

Solution: Forget it. I can never catch up or say no to a book someone gives me. And my life’s goal of being surrounded by books twenty-four hours a day cannot possibly happen in one year. I need another fifty. Also, I have absolutely no idea how many books I have read. Possibly one thousand. Which means there are at least one thousand books in my house I have not read. YAY!

5. Blog more frequently. Once a month, MINIMUM.

Solution: There’s always next year.

* Not a large limb, mind you- maybe my left arm to the elbow, or my right leg, up to the kneecap.

Fear & Type A in Bucolia

Horse

That’s me. The me in my fantasy horseback riding lesson: like fearlessness and a hat with a feather would levitate me and a one ton animal off into space.

The happiness I courted was specific: to conquer a fear I’d been carrying around my entire life. But I didn’t just want to conquer it, I wanted to excel.

When I was a teenager, I attempted to conquer my fear of horses by riding.  Instead, I got as far as sitting on a horse for thirty seconds. He never even moved. That’s all I could handle. A week later, he threw his owner, who had been riding him for years. That settled it in my mind: some fears weren’t worth a crushed vertabrae.

And yet.

I’ve spent the last twenty-nine years admiring horses from the comfort of my car. Daily, I drive alongside rolling pastures that dot the Land-of-Bucolia where I live, watching horses graze and toss their tails. The horses seem small and manageable from a distance.

I’ve felt this way before. Several years ago I was riding a wave of successful newness: I’d moved and opened a business so why not try a triathlon? I ran, I rode my bike, and I did the breaststroke in open water while wearing unnecessary goggles and hair protection. Why? Because I never put my face in the water. I’m a quadruple Type A who needs to be in control all the time. And I couldn’t control what lived in the lake.

What if a giant barracuda swam toward my face? What if the Loch Ness monster grabbed my ankles and pulled me under? It didn’t matter that barracuda live in the ocean or that the Loch Ness is lake folklore of Scotland and I was swimming in dime-sized lakes in Connecticut.

Reason didn’t factor into the fear. But, when I mentioned to my friend Jane, an avid horsewoman, that I wanted to try horseback riding again, she said she had been intimidated at the beginning, too and now she loved it.

I wanted so badly to love it.

So last month I called a local stable, arranged for a $45 private lesson, and on the appointed day pulled on my boots. I drove confidently to the stable and instead of driving by, pulled my car down its rutted gravel road. I parked and strode purposefully to the barn, used my whole body to slide the heavy door open and then- I couldn’t move. There were horses everywhere. Being brushed, being washed, winying from their bays. They were huge with massive heads and I imagined a set of horse teeth taking a hunk out of my leg if I attempted to climb onto its back. I defaulted to my safety plan: talk my way out of the lesson, stay in control.

Newly purposeful, I walked carefully around horses to a woman with kind eyes. “Oh, Becky? She’s back through the ring.” I kept going, walking past jumping apparatus and sets of climb-on-the-back-of-horses stairs, to a tiny girl-sized woman.

“Oh, hi! There you are, let’s get Guennie. She’s super gentle and has been doing lessons for years.” I walked with her. This is the moment, this is when I’m going to say, Um- no thanks. I love my vertebrae. But I just follow to the tack room. What is wrong with me- say something!

The next thing I know, I’m wearing a helmet and carrying a saddle. Becky leads Guennie to the indoor paddock and I follow. Oddly, I’m patting Guennie on her mane. Now I’m babbling about the puppy I’ve been training, and now I am sitting on Guennie and don’t remember how I did it. Holy shit.

I’m not even afraid. I am comfortable. I do what Becky says and steer Guennie in circles around the paddock. I learn to stop her and when Becky asks me to stand up in the stirrups and let go of the reins, spreading my arms wide- I do it, and I’m pretty sure I yelp. I sit down and somehow I’m cantoring and then I’m learning to post: up, down, up, down, one, two, one, two. It’s all going great until I start wondering what I would do if the horse bolts, or if I pulled the bit too tight, or what if. . .

“Hey,” Becky says, holding the reins and looking me in the eye, “The people who have the hardest time horseback riding are the Type A ones.”

I laugh out loud. And then I stop thinking about all the things that could go wrong and I just enjoy myself. When the lesson’s over, I help brush Guennie and Becky says, “People think that with horseback riding, you’re 80% in control. That’s wrong. The horse is 80% in control and if you’re lucky, you get 20%.”

Standing in a barn with mud up to my ankles, leading Guennie back to her stall, it hits me that maybe I don’t have to be in control all of the time. Maybe that was my real lesson.

And I drive home, into the sunset.