The Big Chair

I miss when you both were little. The three of us with room to spare in the big chair.  That precious time before you would sleep, wearing soft PJ’s dotted in animal shapes. I preferred the ones without “footsies”, so I could feel those small, cold feet brush against my legs as you both wiggled and wriggled. We all stretched out in that oversized chair; your bodies lay against mine in the evening hours. Your skin smelled so sweet, like innocence. You were so small, I guess in the same way I must have been so tall. Giggles and laughs. I wanted to sleep. You wanted to play. You both insisted on reading again and again. Silly words, silly times. I needed to rest my eyes. Eventually words became mumbled, vision became blurred. Finally, we all succumbed to sleep.

I watched you play and practice. On baseball and softball fields. In the swimming pool or dance studio. Racing through to the end of my work day with an invisible clock in the back of my head, always present. Always ticking. Counting down the time left to get a glimpse. A chance to see you swing or pitch. Flying starts off the block and into the pool, or an aerial that tooky our feet off the ground and upside down.

We ate pancake breakfasts at home. Hands and mouths sticky from syrup with bits of melted chocolate chip on your lips. Or Saturday morning trips into town to Georgie V’s or Egg Harbor, with the promise of an endless cup of black coffee for me and a soon-to-be spilled hot chocolate for you.  We laughed and giggled. Drew pictures on paper placemats with blunt tipped crayons. Played with words. Spelling them, putting them in haikus or rearranging their letters. There were no iPhones to distract.

When I write these words now, I stop and pause. I lose track of time. I leave the present and go back to the past. The time between then and now keeps getting longer, marching on in unrelenting fashion. Just like the two of you. You grow. In age. In height. In independence. In defining yourselves.

That oversized chair is gone. One of your rooms empty for over a year. The other soon to be. Those too infrequent times when you both are home, sleep usually lasts through breakfast and well beyond. My time outside the hospital is no longer spent racing to watch you participate in life, but waiting for you both to share with me what it has become. I check my IPhone, hoping to catch a static glimpse of dynamic moments in your life. Through Instagram, snapchat or a text.

My perception of self is that I am still youthful and young.In body and soul. Until I wake up in the morning with pain in my back and knee. Or I see the gray in my hair and the lines on the face that looks back at me in the mirror. But most of all, I feel an ache in my core, over the passage of time when I think back to those days. The big chair. Chocolate chip pancakes.Running out a grounder on a dry, dusty field.

The ache turns to loss. And when loss turns to angst, I want to cling to you both. Grab you. Weave my world even more with yours. But that is selfish, thinking I can slow the pace of change by not letting you freely move forward in this world. I know that it is now time for both of you to begin creating your own. That chair has become too small for us all.

A Thanksgiving 2000 Miles Apart

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For me, holidays such as Thanksgiving, evoke memories more than emotions. Reflection on traditions more than generating a visceral response. The ritual of a 4am wake up alarm followed by a moonlit drive on barren roads to an empty hospital parking lot has been repeated multiple times over the last few years. Racing through the workday, fueled by bitter black hospital coffee, in order to get home in time for dinner with extended family. Binging on turkey and stuffing before passing out on the couch. These are my core Thanksgiving memories. The demands of the hospital and a plateful of side dishes have overshadowed emotion and family connection.

2017 turned many things on their head. My family’s trajectory, as a whole and as individuals, abruptly changed. Among many things I have taken for granted over the years was my family’s ability to be under a single roof for Thanksgiving and other big holidays. Last year challenged that presumption. Through somewhat Herculean efforts, Becky, Maya and I were able to travel to Oregon so we could share the day with Madison. And it was there that emotions became front and center while the traditional meal faded into background noise.  The four of us dealt with emotions of a family separated but temporarily reunited, appreciating a little more the connection we share with each other.

Pages on the calendar have turned and this year’s turkey day appeared on the horizon. We assumed another reunion, this time home in Illinois. But neither Madison’s nor my schedule allowed us to travel. And with that came a growing realization that for the first time, our family was not going to celebrate together.

Families, both as a collective group and as individuals, handle stress in different ways. A few weeks ago, each of us as individuals struggled with our own unique uncertain futures. We are all at the moment working on creating and finding new paths. Each of us hope soon to be able to stride confidently down the road of our own making and choosing. But as a connected family, our struggles affect each other. Our individual orbits are not without their gravitational pulls. They may be invisible, but they are impactful on each other nonetheless. But we continue forward coping in the best way possible.

We settled upon a least worst option. Becky would fly to Oregon and share the day with Madison. Maya, with a friend visiting from out of town, would stay home. I would navigate a turkey day squeezed between two busy shifts at the hospital. Not a solution, but a response to a problem that stretched, twisted and turned all our emotions, straining our invisible bands of connection.

Separate and in silence we absorbed this.  There was no specific conversation or group discussion on our family text chain. But internally I felt isolated. Disconnected. The emotional equilibrium I struggle to maintain felt off. Our orbits disparate. Our family separated by more than the geography of 2000 miles. With no other options and out of necessity, I put one in front of the other. Outwardly moving forward. Inside, my heart ached.

Change can be triggered by events big and small. Transformation can come from within or due to outside forces. And sometimes the most trivial of events can reveal what is already present.

My daughter’s friend from out of town was no longer able to travel and visit.

Almost immediately, simultaneous texts occur. One sibling offering to pay the airfare for the other. One sibling laments that they are now not able to visit.

And the emotional disequilibrium shifts.

From separate to shared. From fractured to connected.

Again, despite the gravitational pulls that affect each individual member of my family, there is more that binds us together than pulls us apart. The power of family continues to trump individual struggles and crisis. Strain and stress may hurt our family, but like fractured bone, we remodel and mold our connection into something even stronger than before.

Our family of four will not physically be in the same place this Thanksgiving.  But for the moment, we are together in this shared space of emotional connection.

So, turkey will be eaten. Gluten free stuffing will be enjoyed. Crumbs will be the only evidence left of  pumpkin pie. But the meal, no longer center stage, will be relegated to its appropriate minor supporting role as my family moves forward on our collective and individual journeys. And despite being the one left here in the Midwest, when I look back and remember this thanksgiving, it won’t be about us being apart. But it will be of the invisible emotional threads, that despite the tension and distance of 2000 miles, continue to bind and hold this family together.  And for that, my heart aches, but now full of thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving to my family, friends and to those whose journey at least briefly brought you here to Balance.

Jeremy