Conservatory

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Optimism
More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs—all this resinous, unretractable earth.
—Jane Hirshfield

I took Z to the zoo Monday, a rainy, cold day — as if we were in Seattle, not Minnesota.  I’ve come to associate the winters here with Japanese etchings —  skeletal trees, the shades of gray and black. G’s winters have blinding snow and boundless blue skies. The short winter days are easier for me now but there are days when something settles on my heart and I can’t quite breathe around it — usually as the dark comes early and the winter closes in around us — even so this strange reprieve from winter has disrupted my circannual rhythm.  We stood watching the giraffes eat their hay in that small tent-shaped building and I wondered how they could stand it — the concrete confines all winter; I imagined for it, for a moment, the vast savanna.

When I had my transfer — in late February of 2008 — they transferred two embryos.  I don’t remember feeling anything but tremendous joy, and probably to be honest, some relief — I had a lot of anxiety surrounding the logistics of pregnancy and birth/the early years in caregiving — I knew enough, on some level, to know I didn’t have the support system that would ease the way in caring for twins; I was filled with joy when I saw her. I didn’t reflect on look back often — in some ways I was just treading through the anxious early months/colic — the idea of another would have been alien to me then — only now that things have settled into a pattern — still high-needs and intense in its own way, but familiar — that its flickered lately — once, twice. We are still paying storage fees on our embryos and I haven’t been able, as G has urged me, to deal with it — it’s 275$ quarterly that we could use towards other things — and I haven’t hidden the ball that I don’t think I have it in me to do it all over.  That doesn’t stop me from feeling this deep tug, strangely… I attribute it to turning 40 — this sifting through of choices and identity and all the bits and pieces of what has made a life — to look back and wonder –I haven’t been given to that much since childhood when my whole life, it seemed, was one big exercise in wishing myself into a different life.  If my father had lived.  If I lived in a house rather than an apartment.  If I had a warm circle of community — we had friends, of course — my mother’s friends — people caught in her magnetic orbit — the cousin of a childhood friend she dated briefly when we first arrived here and a friend of his,  a bachelor who would invite the three of us to his condominium where he would charbroil steaks on an outside grill lit with lighter fluid — and pile up the dinners on turkey platters “only at a man’s house” my mother would sigh to me later — as if she was stranded on the frontier and wished her trunks of linens and china would arrive… there was the elderly man she’d work with later who became a mentor of mine — he grew up the child of a single-parent, then the tolerated stepchild in the south side of Chicago and then the oil fields of Houston, and then back to Chicago.  After his stroke I would go to his one-room assisted living apartment and he would tell me about the moment on the streetcar with his mother  — he was a child in the early 1920’s. It was winter, maybe nearing Christmas time, and he passed a man at a car lot — buying a car, presumably — and how he could barely get over it — the luxury, the thought of it — as he stood there on the streetcar with his mother. He gave me books every time he saw my mother –through high school, college — according to what he’d heard from my mother I was studying — or what he thought I should –tucked into the fly-leaf would always be the associated book review or article from a The Atlantic or the NYT’s. This is all to say — there were people — but they were mostly adults –and I yearned for a community — a web I was a part of — rather than one I was traversing.

I spent, anyway, a great deal of my life wishing myself out of my present moment and so find I do it less now.

However.  In the moment as we walked into the zoo, in the rain, Z’s tiny hand clasping my own — I noticed a father with two girls — maybe about nine and eleven.  I didn’t think much more about it other than wondering what brought them here on a Monday — wondering if they were out of school for an appointment, a family event — they seemed happy enough, skipping around.  It was at that moment as we stood in front of the Conservatory that the father urged the two to stand together for a photo — and they clasped onto one another so tightly, arms thrown around one another, cheeks pressed firmly against one another — and I felt this deep resonant pain that took my breath away for a moment — as they ran past Z and me– and Z ran after them — as if she too, were included in their circle.

I thought of something that the youngest of my brothers said when I first told him about G — how he and I had similar life profiles — we were children of blended families with half siblings much older than we — that we felt, in a way, like islands — isolated from extended family — G through geography and I through circumstance — and he turned to me and said rather coldly (though, in his defense it wouldn’t have registered as such — merely pragmatic) “so you are going to create another little island then?”

G turned to me the other day — as the three of us sat in her room — she gathered all her stuffed animals and put them under her bed — where G was  — his top half beneath the bed — the bottom half sticking out — as he watched her chubby little legs dash back and forth “I hope she has a happy life” he said.

7 responses

  1. The first year of the Precious – I longed to give him a sibling. Alas, that was not going to happen – I couldn’t stomach another adoption process. I honestly thought I’d have more than one. Life had other plans for me. I wanted to create a family and a life for my son that I never had. At the same time, I longed for my own family to reach out and embrace him and even me. My eldest sister barely acknowledges me or the Precious. Alas, you can’t undo history. You can only build bridges but the other person has to come out and meet you. It’s funny cause it seems your brother has his own little island of a family as well. Just saying. As for the eggs on ice, my friend has the same issue – what to do with them…. can’t help you there. Funny, but I still miss the kids I never had. Weird, considering that now I can barely handle the one I have.

  2. This has been weighing on me all morning since I read it. G’s comment at the end has been made in our house a couple of times and in my head all the time. We only had 18 months and 6 months of drugs to have our daughter, but for a variety of reasons, she wi be an only child. We were lucky to be able to make that decision, but it was and continues to be extremely hard. She won’t have cousins either. I don’t have any words of comfort but it makes me feel better to read this (albeit with a lump in my throat) beautiful post and know that I am not alone. I think and hope they will be fine and that this is tougher on us than it will be on them, like so many things.

    • Ok I just read your bio and feel dumb- yours isn’t an only! Sorry.
      I have a brother 7 years younger and also 2 half sibs 21+ yrs younger, who I barely know. I doubt that will ever change, but it is nice to know they are there.

      • Ginger!

        Welcome … I’m so glad you have stopped by here to comment. Please don’t feel bad about thinking of Z as an only… With an older male sibling sometimes it seems that way.

        I have three much older siblings and still somehow felt sometimes like an only child.

        I’d love to stop by your blog for a visit… Thanks again for saying hello. I know how busy life can be with little ones and very often I read but don’t comment. I feel graced when someone has come here and leaves a little sign.

        Thank you for the reminder of how wonderful it is to feel like you are understood.

        Xo

        P

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