Sharing a Landmark Day

Landmark days—often these are what we mothers remember and hold onto: the first birthday, first steps, starting kindergarten or high school, moving your child into their first dorm room….moments frozen in our minds.

At the beginning, these memories are shared memories: their firsts are our firsts. As they get older—high school, college, and beyond—we mothers become someone to share good news with, sometimes a sounding board, maybe a shoulder to cry on. Then finally, our children’s landmarks become their own.

They find their way, they make their lives—in short they grow up. As mothers, if we’re so lucky, we may still have a glimpse, hear the exciting news, share in the moments and the landmarks.

Last weekend was such a landmark day in our son’s life, his journey. We were invited to attend his “White Coat Ceremony,”the symbolic occasion in the early days of medical school when students receive their first white coat. We traveled out of state and met up with our son, his girlfriend, and our daughter—all of us living in different states. We did what families often do the night before an event: we gathered at a restaurant. We congratulated and toasted, reminisced and talked, with much of the conversation centering on science and medicine—passions close to both my children’s hearts.

My son—a talented writer, who wrote a novel for his college senior thesis and was urged by mentors to seek an MFA—has known since a “job shadow” at 16 that he wanted to be a doctor. This is not an easy road, and he has worked tirelessly to make his dream a reality.

Last month, as he left our home to head out of state for his first day of medical school, he came over and gave me a hug—I’m happy to say he’s a big hugger, my son—and said: “I’ll make you proud, Mom.” He knew my reply before I gave it: “You already have.”

Sunday morning we went together to the beautiful theater where the ceremony took place. My son joined his class of medical students, and we joined the proud families in the audience. We sat and watched as our son along with all the other sons and daughters received their white coats and took the Hippocratic Oath.

Watching my son, now a man, pursue his life goal and passion makes saying goodbye to my daily job of motherhood a lot easier. To attend this ceremony, be a tiny part, is icing on the cake.

My time, my memories, of every step and every landmark as a mother are just that: mine. His time, his memories, as he takes this momentous step, are a continuation of hislife journey. Sitting in that lovely place, watching my son be “cloaked” with his first white coat made me happy beyond words to be a part of my son’s, this wonderful man’s, life and landmark day. 

It’s About Life

_DSC0010Long-awaited spring finally came to Maine…finally. Then we went back to winter briefly, followed immediately by a fast-forward to summer. Last week we hit the record books with one of the warmest days on that date in history: 84F degrees. The warmest day in 222 days. I was sweltering and I almost complained. (I didn’t.)

This post isn’t about the weather. It’s about spring. It’s about life.

Renewal and new life is everywhere. Daffodils in the garden. Tulips. That burst of heat brought the leaves into full bud (last week there were none). And the weeds are growing, too. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I have been starting a spring cleanup in advance of a summer garden—there’s a lot to clean up after our long winter. A sweet House Finch couple is nesting in our porch eaves, and this morning I listened to the male singing happily while sitting on the string of Christmas lights we never took down (because of the enormous piles of snow)…now we’ll likely keep them up so we don’t disturb the nest.

Yesterday, for Mother’s Day, I had the happy and (these days) only approximately twice-yearly occasion of having both “my kids” home along with my son’s wonderful girlfriend. Bliss is not too strong a word. We had a lovely breakfast together then we went to a nearby goat farm to visit the baby goats. My daughter and I have been planning it for months, but I think my son was a bit skeptical. I’d been to the Sunflower Farm Creamery once before to “hold baby goats,” and I thought it was just the thing we all needed after a long winter of bad weather, of being indoors too much, of work, and of stresses…we’re all together because next weekend we’ll be celebrating the very exciting occasion of my son’s graduation from medical school. If you’ve read my blog for long, you may remember when he started medical school—it was the year I started this blog—four years ago. Those years have flown by (for me). For him it’s been a lot of work.

We needed those baby goats.

Did I mention that my daughter is preparing to apply to medical school? (Which in itself is a major ordeal.) She’s home—on vacation—but she’s working the whole time. Like I said we really needed those baby goats.

There were only about four families at the goat farm when we arrived, and almost every person—man, woman, and child—had a cat-sized baby goat in their arms. The goats were resting peacefully in their arms, and the people were quiet and peaceful, too. As we entered the pasture, we were immediately surrounded by bleating goats. I watched them scampering; watched the other families interact with the goats around us; watched the baby goats nibble at people, chase down their mothers for reassurance; watched even very small children quietly and gently stroking sleeping goats in their laps. It really was magical.

“Holding those baby goats really was therapeutic,” my son texted me after we parted ways: he and his girlfriend rushing to the next busy thing in their lives as they prepare to move a thousand miles away to where he’ll start his medical residency and she’ll start law school.

“I miss the goats,” my daughter said, as she settled back in front of the computer. “I wonder if I can find a medical school with a goat farm.” She put in her ear buds and turned her eyes to the screen. Next week she’ll head back to the west coast to start a new job—having her at the dining room table working for the whole week is this mother’s dream come true.

Later this month, the baby goats will head to their new homes, the woman who owns the goat farm told me. At eight weeks the baby goats go in pairs. She’s very particular about where (and to whom) they go. She has a long waiting list. My daughter and I would love to own a goat farm someday; we talked about it in the car on the way home. Someday.

Next week we’ll gather for my son’s graduation: my aunt, my father, and my son’s girlfriends’ parents will join us. It will be a celebration of life. As my son graduates, I know I’ll wonder. Where did those four years—where did my babies—go?

Then, we’ll scamper. To new homes, to new jobs, to new projects. We’ll all begin anew.

What’s new with you this spring?

Cheers,

Julia 

Wednesday and Everyday It’s All About Observation

Observation (noun) from American Heritage Dictionary via wordnik.com

1. The act or faculty of observing.

2. The fact of being observed.

3. The act of noting and recording something, such as a phenomenon, with instruments.


As a child I lived in Africa for three years. Mostly Kenya, but briefly Uganda. Was living in another culture life changing? Undoubtedly. But how these experiences changed my life, I will never truly know.


An observer by nature, I sometimes wonder: was I deeply affected by my surroundings because I am so aware or was it the very experience that made me become so aware? Again, I will never know.


Some of the places I went, people we met had never before seen a white person—and then we were engulfed by curious humanity, and I became the observed. How has this experience of being the observed affected my perceptions in the world? Again, I have no way of knowing the answer, but I would guess: heartily.


What I do know is this: If I had to choose one word that described me as a writer, it would be observer. And in my research, my writing, my being, I conduct daily observation. I find this mildly ironic because the reason I lived in Africa was to accompany my parents—cross-cultural social scientists—as they conducted observational research. My mother, in fact, invented a tool coined spot observation: whereby an anthropologist takes a “mental snapshot” as a rapid sampling of an observed activity.


As a child I didn’t pay much attention to the specifics of my parents’ work. I only knew that we were in a place that was at the same time frightening and intriguing, completely unfamiliar yet eventually home, welcoming and friendly but never truly a part. It was many years after her death that my father told me about spot observation and my mother’s role in it.


When he told me, it made sense. I had watched and observed my parents conduct these mental snapshots. I overheard and stored away not just my surroundings in a foreign land but the surroundings of my family. And although I was at a distance from my far away home in “the states,” I was also distant from my closest neighbors, and even from my parents busy together with their research projects.


The nuances and memories I have gathered, along with my skills and interest in observation, make me a richer and more curious writer. Through being both an observer and the observed, I have learned to hear instead of merely listen, to see instead of merely look.


Finally, I leave you with a small excerpt from one of my current WIPs, a YA novel about an American girl coming of age in Kenya.


After dusk, the dark, dark night closes in. On cloudy nights with no moon, it’s dark like you can’t imagine. No street lights, no house lights, no stars. Darker than close-your-eyes-dark. Or even go-in-the-closet-close-the-door-and-stuff-a-coat-in-the-crack-under-the-door dark. But the quiet is even more startling. Like someone took away all the sounds in the world and the heavy air hangs without reason around your ears. Is there a word for silence like darkness? No people sounds, no animal sounds, no sound at all unless you make it or speak it?


It is in this world and its darkness that I must make it to the outhouse. Less than one-hundred-steps from where I stand, I can’t see even a suggestion of the small shack. So I hold my breath, clutch my flashlight, and run for my life.


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. What are the words that describe you as a writer? What makes you a richer writer? Are there places or people or experiences from your childhood that you come back to again and again?


Finally, I would like to thank two blog writers for inspiration for this Wednesday Word: Jennifer Walker, through her blog about W. African groundnut soup on her blog My Morning Chocolate and Melissa Crytzer Fry for her blog posting Home on the Range. Thank you!