We came back from a trip to Baltimore to discover that our grill, patio furniture, and new garden hose were stolen out of our backyard while we were gone. They left the hummingbird feeder as, perhaps, a little welcome-to-the-neighborhood gesture of kindness.
We’re busy bees right now. This week we hosted Nanita for a quick visit—she took this cute photo of Robin playing at the neighborhood park. And tomorrow we fly out to Baltimore, for a visit with Nina and Elizabeth and their little boy Silas, and to celebrate as Elizabeth receives her doctorate from Johns Hopkins. I can’t wait to see Robin and Silas interact: Robin’s almost two years older, so it’ll be a little foretaste for him of his new life as a big brother. I think he’ll like it. He’s really interested in other kids now, and generally plays very well with the younger ones.
Of course we’re still getting things into shape on the house. Most of the renovation work is done—the major pieces, like the roof and the fumigation and the floors, are all complete. Contractors and delivery people have been in and out of the house most days since we moved in. Yesterday we got our new fridge, so we no longer have to live out of a camping cooler—and this morning I am experiencing the luxury of doing laundry in my very own washer and dryer. When Sam got home and saw the laundry machines installed, he pretended to be puzzled: “But Shannon, where do we put in the quarters?” I’m sure eventually the thrill of doing the wash will wear off, but for now it’s pretty exciting.
Friends and family, cats and kittens, Romans and countrymen: lend me your address books! We’re all moved in to our new home at 5356 Trask St, Oakland CA 94601.
Robin took the move really well. The boxing-up process was a fun game to him: he wanted to help. He did start to get anxious the day the movers came, as the apartment emptied out. Towards the end he was just clinging to me and refusing to be set down. But when we got to the new house and he saw all his stuff there, he was perfectly happy. He’d visited the house probably a half-dozen times, so it was already familiar to him, and he likes having the extra room to run around in—plus the backyard!
Our cat Marlis has adjusted well too. We let her outside for a few minutes last night and tonight, and it’s clear that she’s enjoying the extra space and the stimulation of new places to explore. When she’s stressed out she expresses it by standing on my head in the middle of the night and yowling horribly, so it’s really nice that she’s been so calm about this move.
As for me, I love this house beyond all reasonable limits. Sam and I had a great time driving around today to hardware stores and appliance stores and Target, picking up lightbulbs and such, chatting about our plans for the house. In the evening we came home and I sat on the back steps while Sam and Robin kicked a ball around the yard, and our hot dogs cooked on the grill (we bought a grill!). A tiny hummingbird came by just as the sun was setting, and I was just about overcome with the sweetness of it all. So ordinary and simple, and so perfectly satisfying.
Some mosquitoes came by too, but they only inspired me to think about getting a bat house for the backyard. I’m full of plans and dreams, but also full of contentment with the present. I really couldn’t be happier with our beautiful little house.
Robin is now expressing definite opinions as to what he wants to wear. When I get him dressed in the morning, the first thing he does is hop down off the bed to go look at himself in the mirror. For the last couple of days he’s been wearing the Thomas shirts that his Pops and Mo sent, which produce transports of ecstasy when he beholds them in the mirror. This morning, however, the plain yellow shirt I’d picked out for him was not acceptable: he stood in front of the mirror doing the kind of fake-crying thing that toddlers do, and whining “fwee! fwee!” (fish) until I pulled out his shark shirt instead, which is also yellow. Then he was happy.
And it’s no use explaining to him that the plain yellow t-shirt is organic cotton, or that sometimes in fashion understatement makes a stronger effect. It may surprise you to hear this, but he doesn’t care.
I have to admit I was sort of hoping to have the fun of picking out Robin’s clothes at least until he started going to school. But it looks like he’s going to start taking over sooner rather than later.
Oh well. At least I have another helpless little baby coming along, and I can dress him however I like!
Sam brought this poem to my attention: it is hilarious and poignant and very fitting for Mother’s Day. Or the day after Mother’s Day, as the case may be.
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
Well, this is our last veggie box for a while: I called up and put our account on indefinite hiatus. Capay Farms does deliver to Oakland, but there’s a weekly farmer’s market on Laurel, not far from our house, that I want to support. And I’ll be putting in my own backyard garden too.
In the Last Veggie Box we got: snap peas, chard, asparagus, radishes, carrots, spring onions, green garlic, baby bok choy, and new potatoes. There’s no fruit in the box this week, but that’s all right: the locally-grown strawberries are in at the store, so I’ve been buying pint after pint. Robin is delighted—he can plow through almost an entire pint all by himself, over the course of an afternoon. I think it makes a nice change from kiwis.
Tonight we’re polishing off the last of our leftovers, but tomorrow I’ll made a Niçoise salad using the radishes, asparagus, and potatoes, as well as eggs and olives and tuna. And Friday I’ll do a hot-and-sour soup with the bok choy. Saturday is cook’s night off. Sunday I’m going to satisfy a recent craving I’ve been having for pastitsio: I’ll get to use the spring onions and the green garlic, as well as some more of our wonderful local lamb. Then Monday we’ll be virtuous and healthful, and do a tofu, carrot and snap pea stir-fry, over brown rice of course; and Tuesday will be for leftovers as usual.
For the next couple weeks we’ll be packing up our apartment, while the renovation work proceeds on our new home. Some of our neighborhood acquaintances, like the other moms at the park, have been following our house-buying saga, and words like “goodbye” and “good luck” are starting to enter our conversations. These people aren’t exactly friends—I’ve never been to their homes and they’ve never been to mine—but since we’ve been chatting every week for the past couple of years, we are a part of the rhythms of each others’ lives. It’s surprisingly wrenching to think that I may not see them again.
I was pondering this on the way home from the park last night, wondering why this move feels more difficult than all the ones I’ve made before, and I realized: Sam and I have been living in this apartment for more than five years now. That’s longer than I’ve ever spent in one place. We moved around a lot when I was a kid: before I went to college I only twice managed to spend two full years at the same school. And though I’ve been in San Francisco for ten years now, I’ve moved apartments every couple of years. Five years in one place is a personal milestone. Of course it’s harder to leave!
It’s also harder to leave because we’ve accumulated more stuff. When you’re used to moving every two years, you get in the habit of routinely purging your possessions. Unfortunately, Sam is a pack-rat, and has been vigorously resisting my periodic attempts to pick through our belongings and toss out everything we don’t use. The conversations go like this:
ME: “What is this tangle of cables and electronic junk? Do we need it?”
SAM: “Yes, we need it. I’m not sure what that cable is for but the memory cartridge is for the Nintendo 64 game system.”
ME: “But the Nintendo 64 is fifteen years old and we don’t have one, because we are not Neanderthals! We have a Wii!”
SAM: “We do too have a Nintendo 64! It’s in the closet.”
ME: “Well, let’s toss it out. You haven’t touched it in five years.”
SAM: “But I might!”
ME: “Okay, at least let me throw out the cable. If you don’t know what it goes to, you obviously don’t need it.”
SAM: “BUT I MIGHT.”
But I might! is essentially unanswerable, and it pretty much sums up the philosophical difference between the purger and the pack-rat. The purger feels that nothing should be kept unless it is highly sentimental or provably useful. The pack-rat feels the opposite: nothing should be thrown out unless it can be proven that the item could never, under any conceivable circumstance or alignment of stars, possibly be desirable in any way.
I eventually won the Nintendo 64 argument, on the basis that the Wii can emulate all those old games so we don’t need the obsolete hardware; and Sam won the argument about the cables, on the grounds that cables don’t take up much space and it’s annoying not to have one when you need it. But we have to go through this for so many things.
Luckily we already have a compromise worked out. In the new house, Sam will get the basement and the garage to fill up however he chooses. If he wants to hold on to fraying, yellowing comic books that he’s never even read, that’s just fine. He can stock them next to his piles of gas station receipts, his certificates of achievement in third-grade deportment, all of his non-functioning computers and all of the power cables thereto, and the collection of fingernail clippings in jars that I fear he’ll begin amassing any day now. But in the living areas of the house I am allowed to be ruthless, and purge the clutter as often as I like.
I remind myself of this as I’m taping up the boxes full of broken, dusty crap that nobody has used in five years. Moving is always a gigantic hassle, but in two weeks it will be over. Saying goodbye is hard, but I’ll meet other moms in our new neighborhood, and strike up friendships with them. I already feel that we got spectacularly lucky in our immediate neighbors: on the right we have a distinguished gay man who teaches at an Oakland school, and on the left a grandmotherly, churchgoing African-American matron who charmed the socks off Robin within minutes. Both have been living in the neighborhood for over a decade and were quick to offer their welcomes. A diverse neighborhood of established families is exactly what we were hoping to find in Maxwell Park, so I’m delighted.
I don’t regret moving so much as a kid. It was sometimes hard always being “the new girl,” but I got to see a lot of the country, and to experience a number of different regional traditions. In Michigan I learned how to ice skate and in Washington D.C. I learned how to jump double-dutch rope. I can cheer the Tar Heels or call the hogs. I know where to get fried ravioli and frozen custard in St. Louis, and in theory I could probably even locate a brain sandwich if you’re ever wanting one.
But I want my sons to have a childhood home. I want them to grow up learning a single neighborhood so well that every tree is climbed and every stray cat is known by sight. I want them to be able to map their roots with detail and specificity: so that it is this house, this street, this city that in their hearts forms the template for Home. I want them to be from somewhere. I’m looking forward to the day, two weeks from now, when we’ll all come home.