Entries in J (12)
Sixteen years ago today, my oldest niece Freya was born on the Ides of March, which means soon she will getting her learner's permit and taking to the roads. Happy Birthday Freya--we love you!
The phone call I got announcing her arrival sixteen years ago makes it easy for me to remember that the same night, J and I had our first date, by which I mean to say, engaged in some drunken dance floor moves at Rumheads Nightclub. I remember Coolio's "1-2-3-4" was played more than once.
I'm not sure which is scarier--to think of my niece all grown up at the wheel, or that J and I made a connection that set the course of our future in the bar underneath the World Gym on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman when we both barely old enough to drink in the United States. Sixteen years ago!
What a long strange trip it has been. In my essay, A Wedding Planner Hangs Up Her Headset, I wrote about the practical applications of our relationship, what love has come to mean to me as an adult and what I wish new brides could know from a vantage point a little farther down the road.
In some ways, we were musing in the shower this morning, it seems like we have always been together, and in others, like sixteen years have flown by. How did we get this far? I made a list of a few things that have made this relationship, which is also a deep friendship, feel easy.
1) we both consider ourselves equally lucky to have each other--by this I mean to say, there is no quiet one-upmanship. Which is not to say that I don't think how damn lucky he is when I tote the garbage and recycling cans back and forth to the curb twice a week, a stereotypically male job. But I also acknowledge how fortunate I am to have a guy who can fix almost anything, who gets up in the frozen pre-dawn stillness on Saturday mornings all winter long to coach the boys' hockey teams, who never lets a day go by without telling me I am loved and desired.
2) we take turns holding each other up. And we take turns falling apart. You can let life's knocks break you, or shape you.
(You can read more about this in the essay about the birth of our son Hayden and our baptism by fire into parenthood)
3) we adopt a teamwork approach. This applies to everything from parenting to yard maintenance to hockey weekends to shaving the dog, which you may see more of in a photo essay called "Shearing Season" in an upcoming dog blog.
4) he makes me laugh Usually by saying all those things I think but might not say. He tries to whisper them, but he's not a very good whisperer. It runs in the family. Did I mention he also makes both the best coffee and mojitos I have ever tasted?
5) we try to shower and/or have coffee together daily to catch-up. This has been important in keeping us connected during the busier stages of our lives. Sometimes I drive him nuts by bringing notebooks and day planners and agendas to these get togethers. Well, not in the shower.
6) we have a commitment to being each other's port in the storm. We make our home a place where people build each other up and expect this of the kids as well.
7) we travel separately. This doesn't mean I am turning down opportunities for us to go away as a couple in favor of spa weekends with the girls. (Although, wait, that sounds really great right now.) But with three little kids and an enormous, slobbery dog, there are few people willing to take on our brood for extended periods of time. This means that when we need to recharge, we drop each other off at the airport and look forward to hearing via Skype about how it was kiteboarding in the Bahamas or visiting with friends and family in the Caribbean or the Rockies, and checking in on the chaos that ensues when one of us is single parenting at the Hoffstead.
8) he is willing to be married to a writer. This comes up all the time when I am a guest author at book clubs--how does your husband handle your writing? Or let's be honest, people want to know: how does he feel about the character of Dan in CHOSEN?
The writer and blogger extraordinaire Julianna Baggott has a standard question in her writerly half-dozen interview about advice for those seeking a long-term relationship with a writer. The answers are painfully, honestly hilarious. Actually, pretty much all of her stuff is great. You should check it out.
For the long answer, you have to invite me to your book club. But the short answer is that J handles it beautifully and he lets me post sappy blogs about how much I adore him (sixteen years later!) on the internet. I also include photos of him doing awesome, sporty things, where he looks really hot.
9) we have similar passions. Wanderlust, the ocean, family, sports, reading, words and nameplay, and most importantly, a dedication to the nurturing of all things Hoffspring--be they pink or furry or scaled or feathered. See, I said feathered. Don't get me wrong. Things aren't perfect. I'm still working on him about the chickens.
So there you have them, my off-the-cuff Nine Commandments for 16 Years of Happiness. But I am sure there are more and from those far more seasoned in the game than I am. So I'd love to know: What do you and your partner do to ensure a happy relationship?
Though this piece was scheduled before my husband ended up in the hospital, I can't think of a better writer to feature today than Lori, whose essay (and life work) highlights the incredibly generous spirit of the small town we share and her commitment to marriage and family.
I watched the real life drama of this piece unfold last week: Lori's son Ben, a sweet-hearted, big-eyed boy who is on the autism spectrum went missing. The town rallied and I will promise you ahead of time, this story has a happy ending. I teared up when I read her piece on the experience and immediately asked Lori if I could run this.
I wanted to broadcast her message and share my gratitude for belonging to a town that not only embraces 'it takes a village' and 'love your neighbor', but also values marriage and family. This is a town who signed and sent a letter of condolence and forgiveness to the stranger who struck and killed the high school secretary in a no-fault accident. This the town that organizes meals for new parents and those who have lost loved ones. Most recently someone put together an ongoing chain of love messages, quotes, poetry or flowers (either through email or in person) to a young couple facing cancer in their first year of marriage.
J and I have been on the receiving end of this embrace when our oldest son was born and spent his early months in the NICU of a hospital downtown. To be the center of this much rally and love is awe-inspiring. Ten years later, I remember fondly the good fairies who came in and changed our sheets, knowing that we were falling into bed exhausted every night, who left us platters of cut up fruit and chocolate, and meals that appeared out of nowhere, and the hand-knit blankets and baby caps...
So I had been looking forward to running Lori's story celebrating this kind of caring, when this weekend, J who is recently back from Central America, spiked a frightening fever and ended up in ICU. Though he is looking better and we still don't know why or when to expect him home, one thing is positive: we are held in the embrace of the human community. My phone has been a constant flow of texts and calls and offers and support. My children have been whisked off to their swim practices and metes and sports camps and playdates. Sampson (of the dog blog) has been sprawled out under the air-conditioning vent of neighbors, and everyone has flooded us with positive thoughts, medical insights and string-pulling and love. Last night, a friend stayed over with our kids so that J and I could cozy up in the twin-sized bed at the hospital (Holy Redeemer's Honeymoon Suite!) and watch old Law and Order episodes and joke with the nurses that this was a close to a date as it got for us.
It is an honor to be a part of this community and to share with readers Lori's inspiring story. Maybe you will go on to create this village for those you love. Maybe you will be reminded to hold their marriages and their loved ones close, to help shoulder their burdens. Maybe one of you will be the first to rally a search party if anyone, or anyone's love story, goes missing. Enjoy...
Yesterday Benjamin was lost for two hours. I told him that the twins were at a friend's house and I got ready to take him there too while I went to a funeral, but as soon as I found my shoes he was gone. I checked the car. Empty. Looked around the house. Not there. I called the police who were instantly helpful. I posted on Facebook and in an astonishingly short time there were fifty five messages.
Curtis-"I'll head down Alden road from the Pike."
Chandra-"Can I help?"
Lisa-"praying for you"
Soon a throng of people and four emergency vehicles were waiting in the parking lot around the corner while we cranked out pictures of Benjamin. Dogs trained by people I will never meet, over hundreds of hours in another city, would arrive in five minutes to memorize the scent of his clothes.
My heart was frozen, trying not to think about worst case scenarios. Could my entire life be forever charred by this day? It was such an ordinary moment, not like when my oldest son drove from Los Angeles to Times Square to celebrate the new millennium with trillions of strangers which would most certainly include a few thousand malevolent snatchers.
Benjamin stopped his Houdini escapes eight years ago and life de-escalated from constant red alert. He will sit in the car, in his favorite seat, whenever he gets wind that we are going somewhere because he does not want to be left behind. Ever.
I tried to think the way he does. He would go see Jamie, if he was confused. John and two policemen searched her house. Perhaps he figured out that funerals happen at church and went there. Did he even know the way? The mourners noticed men in uniform combing the grounds. We checked the corners of our closets, the dryer, the trunks of three cars, the bathrooms, the tubs. But he would not hide there. Autistic kids do the same things over and over. He had never done this. Where was he?
Benjamin had decided that his sisters needed him. In a burst of heroism he resolved to find them. He scarcely ever calls them by name because he is still confused by twinness and cannot tell them apart, so he was looking for "the girls". But early in the trek it started to rain, hard, and he traipsed into the nearest house, five doors down from us. Their grandmother was home and asked what his name was, which he mumbled an answer to. Her television was on so he plopped down and decided to watch an adventure in lieu of having one. She called John at work, and left a message, but he was pounding the pavement not fifty feet from her phone. She tried our number and left a message, but I was so busy making calls and pacing I did not think to check voicemail.
The policeman used his loud speaker to blast out Benjamin's name and to assure him that he was not in trouble but he should come out now. He heard it, but stayed put because he "did not want to be arrested." Besides, Smurfs was getting to the good part.
Before the searchers actually fanned out more people arrived home down the street, and having passed several patrol cars blocking the road realized that the small boy in Grandma's favorite chair was probably the object of the commotion.
In the aftermath I am enormously grateful. Just now, when I handed him lunch, I sat with him instead of rotating the laundry. We chatted about factoring, and cubes. He smiled.
"Zero is a stupid number. When you cube it it is still zero!" I savored the simple sweetness of his presence.
It is cozy to have all your ducks lined up... to know where your children are, and to have dinner in the oven. But falling apart is an experience that brings you to a place more holy than words can define.
People are poised and ready to throw their life aside to find a little boy who will never write them a thank you note, though he would, if pressed, tell you what day of the week your birthday will fall on in 2012 should you be inclined to advanced planning.
What would happen if that collective compassion were unleashed on lost marriages?
Status Update- I am hurting. I cannot find my resolve to stay in this marriage.
How quickly would they forward photos of your wedding day? What people, trained in recovering covenants for hundreds of hours in another city, would arrive to sniff out the clues of its disappearance? How long would it take to have fifty five messages from people with offers to pray, come right away, and help you look for the love you cannot find?
* *** *
Lori and her husband John have nine children and have been leading marriage workshops for most of their thirty years of marriage. Lori writes a marriage blog aimed at a combination of humor, inspiration and real life examples of how to keep a marriage well oiled and running. You can find this at: www.caringformarriage.org
This week, Sampson officially doubled in size since he has come home to us. He continues to try to chew on Piper, and many moments that we find them together look like this:
She has learned to grab his neck scruff from either side when he comes at her feeling chewy, and can hold him at an arm's length while they waltz somewhat awkwardly around the kitchen. This goes on until someone rescues her, usually with a distraction tactic.
I'll be honest; it was a challenging week for the house as J was in Central America and Max had a miserable lingering fever and stomach virus that he said "Felt like a sensei match where he kept getting kicked in the stomach and couldn't fight back." Hayden had his ice hockey championship tournament--every time they won a game (and there were some serious nail-biters) I would find myself jumping out of my seat and cheering, immediately followed by the sobering realization that this meant another game, at another rink. Six games in two days, with a final result of:
It was also the beginning of our swim season night meets, which Max was devastated to miss. Luckily, my mom is a devoted fan of the Barracudas and took Hayden and Piper, while Max, Sampson and I had some quiet evenings of Qwirkle at home.
And all this time, I was baking--4 dozen eggs in a week. A carrot cake shaped like a carrot for my sister's golden birthday and her baby on the inside, who we call "Carrot". A gluten-free cake for my boys to take to a birthday party. A 3-D cake in the shape of my sister's house for her housewarming party, and a double batch of Namaste brand gluten free brownies for the swim team picnic and 4th of July.
Then there was Sampson, who had been accident free for four days straight peed four times in the house before breakfast one morning and the pace of our lives felt like we still had not found our summer stride. And writing? Fuhdeddaboutit. I was lucky to shower.
Finally, on Friday, after nine days abroad, we had the return of the alpha male and everything fell back into balance. Sampson's nipping of Piper could be corrected with one deep voiced 'Uh-uh" from J. Max woke up Friday morning, took a shower, proclaimed himself better and went to swim practice and swam 55 laps. Piper got over her shyness about the male lifeguards who assist the swimmers in her tadpole group with her daddy there and swam the length of the pool without stopping.
We christened my sister's family's new house with a fantastic party. (Sampson had to go home early after grazing too many unattended plates.) I should have gone with him--the sangria (recipe below) went down way too easily.
I was also excited to receive emails from the first guests on the dog blog. This week, you can look forward to hearing from Ivan and his rescue lab-mix Forrest and Lisa and Zulu, her mutt from the other side of the world. Yes, people are reading this in Australia! I will be posting these in the next few days. In the meantime, Sampson continues to woo me with his baby browns and charm us with his antics.
3 bottles cabernet (or other red wine)
1 2 liter bottle ginger ale
1 2 liter bottle orange Fanta
large bags of sliced frozen peaches, strawberries and raspberries
optional: fresh orange slices and Cointreau to taste
Mix all ingredients in large container at least 24 hours ahead of time. Serve chilled.
Age: 9.5 weeks
Weight: 30.4 lbs
Yes, you read that correctly. In his first three weeks home, Sampson has almost doubled his body weight.
The past week and a half have flown by with my husband's birthday and the arrival of my sister's family as they transition from full time Caribbean life to a US existence. I have hardly known how to handle myself, so many exciting things at once. If you haven't read This POST about the fabulousness that is my sister, you might not get how giddy this makes me, to have her family shouting distance away...
And Piper has been thrilled to have my sister's daughter Quinn, her sister-cousin. Both girls agree that Sampson's chewy phase is unwelcome. He loves following the little girls' flouncing skirts and thinks their delicious, sun-warmed forearms are just ripe for nibbling. Perched up on the kitchen counter out of the way of Sampson the other night, Piper told me:
"I have decided I don't want a puppy. I want a dog. The worst Jonah ever did was shake his wet on me."
Throughout this time of helping their family to settle in, Sampson has been a game little shin-high compadre, toddling cheerfully between their new house and ours. He should be relishing his final moments indoors at Casa Nowak because the white carpet comes tomorrow and it's not going to be much longer that J can do this:
In addition, this past week we had our annual family reunion--a tradition my maternal grandparents started more than 50 years ago. From these two people, who had seven children, there are now 72 relatives--their children, grandchildren and great-grands with three new babies due. This year, we decided to hold it locally, literally in the common property. My grandfather celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday and we are all feeling blessed to have him as this winter he underwent treatment for cancer and beat it. The day before the fesitivities began, he played his first full round of golf. This is the cake my sister and I made to celebrate my grandfather's return to one of his favorite pasttimes:
Because of my grandparents' belief in family, because of them starting this tradition, my children know their second cousins more intimately than most people know their firsts. It was so fun to see the twenty great grandchildren traveling in a pack, fishing and bouncing and running wild. Sampson got to be underfoot for much of the family festivities in the backyard, scavenging under banquet tables, frolicking with my cousin's two-year-old Bernese Mountain dog and snuffling small cousins.
Our typical 4 am pre-dawn walks were spent restocking the hidden treasures for the weekend-long scavenger hunt and Sampson was a game little companion, sniffing out . In order to control him in such a crowd and monitor his bacon intake, I started attaching a leash to his collar. He mostly dragged it or carried it proudly in his mouth, but it was a start.
There was also time for a little bit of this--early morning writing with my sweet boy at my feet:
BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THE FAMILY THIS WEEK... WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING WITH SAMPSON?
Holy Biter, Batman!
When I was growing up, conventional wisdom was that when a dog nipped or bit, you 'popped' them under the chin. Never over, so they wouldn't see it coming or get head-shy of petting. This doesn't jive with our parenting style or who we are as people so I have been researching some non-violent approaches to keep Samps from being too bitey with the under-four set.
In this, we coat Piper's palm with a smear of peanut butter, and then she calls Sampson to her and tells him to 'lick', while repeatedly praising him. The idea is that when he runs up to her, mouth open, she can hold out her palm and say 'lick', and he will do that instead. This has about a 35% success rate. The rest of the time, he just looks at her incredulously like, "Wow, you're giving it to me? It's more fun when I chase you down and you squeal but okay..." before chomping down with his needle teeth.
So when that doesn't work, we have tried to teach her to 'yipe', high pitched and loud, like one of his litter-mates, to give him the message that that's too much. If you know Piper, and her big-eyed, soft-spoken ways, you know that this only works when I am right there and 'yipe' for her.
3. Mama Dog Says NO
This is another one that is only effective when I am around and comes straight from the Dog Whisperer. When he gets her, I make my fingers into a claw/jaw and close them over his skull like a mama dog's jaw and hold it there making a low growl until he lets go. This is the most effective of the three, though nothing quite beats the foolproff way of keeping Piper from getting nipped--carry her; everywhere.
If you have a great puppy-training method, I'd love to hear it!