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Family

The True Self is 11 Years Old

I’ve been thinking about my 11-year-old self a lot lately.

As I planned my 37th birthday party, as she always does, 11-year-old Rose piped up, “No boys allowed! No way!” (Not even my husband or son get invited— they are expected to lavish me with attention earlier in the day, secure in the knowledge that I will save them each a slice of cake).

When a friend texted, “Hey, my birthday is just a few days after yours— some time we should have a joint party!,” 11-year-old Rose laughed out loud. Besides the fact that I insist on having the party on my actual birthday, I assured my well-intentioned friend that, practical though it may be, 11-year-old Rose would definitely not be willing to share. What day besides your birthday gets to be truly, guiltlessly, indulgently about You?

At the party itself, over peach pie, chocolate mousse, and whiskey, someone said “This is so fun! No one ever has birthday parties anymore.”

Why ever not?

I’m pretty sure I’ve thrown myself a party almost every year since I turned 21, when I reserved a couple lanes at the Bryant Lake Bowl and bought a taco bar— surely not a small expense compared to my rent-to-income ratio at the time— and totally worth it.

And just a month after we’d moved to India with a toddler, when I was still getting used to a new culture, checking my child’s shoes for scorpions, and living at 7,000 feet of elevation, I asked the most extroverted person I’d met to organize a ladies-only dinner party. I felt pretty shy, I had no idea who would come, and I had to borrow cash from a motherly near-stranger before going out for the night because my bank card hadn’t arrived yet. But I was turning 29 and that warranted a celebration.

I know I’ve missed a few here and there, but the standard is: It’s my birthday and I’m having a party. There will be delicious desserts (which I will bake) and probably some lake-lounging time, and all my favorite ladies. (And I can invite more than three people because we don’t all have to fit in my mom’s van!)

 

It’s sort of a surprising thing, more than 25 years later, to see how much of my attention and energy goes toward resolving and/or delighting preteen desires. But it also makes total sense: 11 is the age of the true self, a foot in both worlds.

11 is a big transition time. It was the year before 7th grade for me: the era of intense girlfriend drama, my first boyfriend, and, in our little town, the start of high school with 7-12 all in one building.

At 11 I was not yet a teenager or an adult, but I was no longer a little kid. (Though it took another year of pleading with my Mom, and finally an outright boycott at age 13, I was old enough to stay home by myself after school without a babysitter, and even be responsible for my younger sisters.)

I knew at 11 I wanted to be an actress and a writer; and that’s what I’ve done ever since, for fun and for money. I still stand by my fashion sense from 1993 (one distinctive sweater dress comes to mind, and for my birthday this year I wore an extravagantly beaded and sequined top; I also recently bought a 12 color eyeshadow palette, because, why not?).

11 was a quick window between little kid-hood and the angst of crushes and social hierarchies and adult expectations. It was the beginning of being fabulous, the start of choosing to become the person I am today; 11-year-old Rose is the goal, the true north, the notes all ringing clear and in harmony with each other.

 

I wonder what your 11-year-old self has to say to you. What she loves, fears, longs for. Because the upside of being an adult is that it’s all possible. And the fears aren’t as scary as they used to seem: I’m the kid and the mom— I have kept another human alive for 9 whole years, after all; a really nice, thoughtful, funny, clever human, no less, who can cook really good scrambled eggs! I have only rarely fed him cereal for supper. I have faked bravery and held his hand when he got stitches. I have helped him do what interests him even when it doesn’t interest me (Legos, Snap Circuits, Dungeons & Dragons). Without a doubt, I can do that for my younger self, too.

I don’t need anyone else’s permission or money— though I do wish for a windfall now and then, I have saved up and replaced a house’s worth of windows, I have gotten cars repaired, I have paid rent and mortgages, I have researched how to fix a leaky toilet: I can definitely buy a nyckelharpa / get braces/travel to beautiful places / learn to sew my own clothes / get a stray cat fixed / whatever.

I also don’t have to be a Grown-Up about it all. I don’t have to be a 1950’s clock-in-at-9-cocktail-at-5-wax-my-car-on-weekends sort of creature.

Now that my son is out of the I-have-no-skills-to-stay-alive-on-my-own stage, I get to return to my younger self, I get to be playful, I don’t have to focus on survival— my own, as a kid in a grown-ups’ world, or his.

When we move beyond survival, we can thrive, and it turns out I really like the ideas 11-year-old Rose had. She had no mobility, no money, no autonomy other than in her imagination; now I get to have all the resources of adulthood and her wise instincts and dreams.

I hope you do too— I hope all of us return to those younger, wiser, magical selves and bring all the grown-up skills and resources to not only be safe, but to live in delight.

 

Every year at my party I hand out index cards and instruct the guests to write my fortune for the coming year. No one ever writes “Your stocks will go up,” or “Your bathroom will be spotlessly clean.”

Every prediction, every magic wish is one of which 11-year-old Rose would heartily approve.

sparkly birthday selfie

Medicine Friends

My grandparents’ house was sold at the end of the summer. This was a Century Farm, meaning it had been in the family for over 100 years; my grandpa was born there. My grandma moved half a mile from her childhood farm when they married.

They each had their own gardens (as did her parents). The story I’ve heard is that they needed their own spaces to plant what they wanted. Both gardens were magnificent in my childhood: my grandpa grew roses, my grandma grew everything else.

I’ve only discovered my dormant green thumb when I bought my first house: all of a sudden I was digging and moving rocks and dividing plants… and transplanting. That first home in St. Paul presumably still has the cousins of my grandmother’s peonies growing out by the front door.

When we moved into the bed and breakfast in 2013, I began the process of recreating my grandmother’s garden once again, though I didn’t realize that was what I was doing at first. There was already a hardy perennial flower bed here with peonies, day lilies, some tiger lilies, and irises.

But there weren’t flox or echinacea or black-eyed Susan.

So when I found out that, a few years after my grandma moved into an apartment, her farm had a buyer, I made sure to go dig. A year later, they’ve bloomed. Next year they’ll be bigger.

Perhaps once they’re established, I’ll be ready to try my hand at roses.

Jay Bought a Bike Shop!

Ever since I met Jay (way back in 2005), he’s wanted to own the bike shop in Grand Marais… and now he does!

Fireweed Bike Co-op had its grand opening on Memorial weekend (when he also rode a 100 mile gravel bike race). Note that it’s conveniently located next to Beth’s Fudge, and across the street from both World’s Best Donuts AND Sydney’s Frozen Custard— so you can fuel up before your ride.

My dad was visiting over the weekend and got put to work…

This makes for a busy schedule (bike shop – mayoring – B&B – summer theater – writing – family time), but it’s really exciting to see this become a reality.

Read It: A Mango-Shaped Space

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Even though I saw the set-up for the sad part waaaay off, I still cried my eyes out! It worked (I think) because the main character didn’t see it until she was in the moment, and I experienced it along with her.

I’ve always been drawn to books about people who don’t fit in– and this was a great one for that. Even though our heroine is the official “weird” one, the author does a nice job of highlighting everyone’s weirdness without being heavy-handed.

 

 

 

I recommend it for:

  • Artists
  • Kids in small towns
  • Cat lovers
  • Anyone who feels both ashamed and proud of being weird (see #4 on the Enneagram)

Enjoy!

Inheritance

Let me tell you about my granny.

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Meeting Ennis, 2010

   She was born in 1923 in Belgium, which made her 92 ½ when she died this morning. She met my grandad at a dance hall during World War II; he was from England. They sent letters back and forth, though he spoke no French and she virtually no English. She didn’t see him again until he arrived in Belgium for their wedding. (So many war brides showed up in England and then never found their promised husbands that she couldn’t enter the country before marrying him. Her friends said, “He’s not going to come, he’s not going to come,” and she kept saying, “He’s coming.”) All Grandad knew was when to say oui during the ceremony. Then they went home to England.

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Snooker watching in action, 2012

My mom (their former daughter-in-law) says that Grandad had no idea how much she talked, but once her English picked up he discovered just how opinionated she was. My visits to her home are always in the context of a heated monologue-debate about food. Last time it was about mustard: Sainsbury’s, an English grocery store, was having French mustard made in France– but was it really French mustard? This was discussed with Uncle Phil while the week-long snooker tournament played on the television in the background.

When my sister and I traveled solo in Europe in 2002, the discussion (held at length at a very nice Italian restaurant, then at a coffee shop, and back at the house) centered on coffee: countries of origin, how it should be roasted, the right way to brew it, and when to drink it. Back then Uncle Pat was still alive, and, as my mom said, “Pat would argue that the moon was made of cheese just to get an argument going,” and was known to switch sides seamlessly halfway through to keep up momentum; he and Granny and Uncle Phil vocalized about coffee for six hours.

My cousin, Ben, lives over there and had weekly dinners at Granny’s house. He sent me a message once: Phil had made apple crumble, and he and Granny were now assessing its merits and whether or not it lived up to Plato’s Form of Apple Crumble (though I don’t believe they would have called it that). The debate culminated with Granny throwing up her hands in the penultimate French way and saying with heavy accent, “To me, it’s nothing.”

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Kathryn, the Smooshy Grandma on left; Paulette on right, 2010

I always knew she was the Scary Grandmother. I think everyone has one Smooshy Grandma and one Scary one. Granny was the one with strict rules and high expectations of manners (hinted at in the moments when rules were being bent and exceptions were being made– a tendency I notice in myself).

But she was also the grandparent who gave permission to be assertive, bold, rather fabulous. She was a young woman during a time of war rations, but her family always had butter (this still means a lot to me, having grown up surrounded by my stoic Scandinavian Depression-era people who waste nothing and try not to inconvenience anyone or ask for too much).

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post-India: a huge spread of Indian food with Uncle Phil, 2012

She’d been widowed for twenty years, and though it must have been devastating, she held her own in the world. I love that she got her hair done weekly. That she wore nice clothes and jewelry (how many grandmothers can wear a leopard print top and look classy?). That when Jay and I visited she served us three kinds of cheeses and a choice of aperitifs; though she could no longer cook like she used to (homemade sorbets with waffle cookies overshadow the multiple dish meals from childhood memory) she still heated the plates in the oven before serving us a top quality frozen dinner. I had tiramisu for the first time at her house. I brought in the milk bottles (so European! So thrilling to peel back the foil tops!). I smelled her particular hair spray (in the gold bottle) and perfume (with the red and black top).

My grandad was the letter writer, and I was devastated when he died of a brain tumor. He’d send letters to me and my sister (individually– a man who understood the dreams of children! It was wonderful to get a blue airmail letter addressed just to me); at the bottom, in her curlicued French cursive, Granny would always write some version of, “Well, as usual, Grandad has given you all the news,” then sign it with an inverted pyramid of Xs.

I wonder what it would have been like to grow up down the road from her. To take the city bus to her house the way Ben did. Maybe more of our family’s hypercriticism and perfectionism would have rubbed off on me. Surely I would have been an even better cook. I expect I would have kept my French brushed up. Would have sneaked back into her bedroom and found the letters from Grandad she wouldn’t show me (“Not for young eyes,” she said, wagging her finger at me and looking very pleased with herself).

I’m sorry I didn’t know her better, but some grandparents you know well and intimately as a child, and some you don’t. But she formed me anyway. I can see her face in the shape of my own. Give me an hour around a French speaker and I’ll start puffing out my cheeks and shrugging my shoulders in her exact manner. And as my husband can attest, I’m nearly unbearable in my evaluation of my own cooking– Midwestern as I am, I completely understand the Belgian sentiment that food is divine and our mortal efforts will always, always fall short.

Every sprinkle of nutmeg on simple, buttered pasta is a nod to her.

Every nicely laid table, every snifter of smokey Laphraoig, every slice of Nutella toast.

I think this is the legacy, the inheritance I’m choosing to take from her: that there is no reason for life not to be beautiful in the details. There is no reason for food not to be delicious. That chocolates and cheese and butter and bread are the standards of true richness.

Oh, and the flair for the dramatic is mine, whether I want it or not. Because I, too, fully believe that a dish of apple crumble holds such magnificent possibilities that I am justified in throwing up my hands, pursing my lips and giving it up.

“To me, it’s nothing.”

To me, it’s everything.

family with Granny

The fam. (Check out the telltale jawlines on some of us…) 2010