So, we are leaving South Carolina. My experiment in southern housewifery is over, and I have to say it is with a great big sigh of relief.
A sense of relief not unlike the shockingly icy temperature of a Maine ocean on a hot summer day. I’ve been longing for that burst of coolness, refreshment from the stagnant. I’m actually looking forward to the fall and a change of scenery.
I miss my family, and we’ve done enough exploring here. The South is a different country from New England, with a different value system and culture from what we prefer. I want to raise my son in a place where being different is not jeered at, a place that values education and alternative takes on life. I’ve met acquaintances with many new variety of tree, plant and human. I recognize the weather, speech and traffic patterns, and I am okay with eliminating the term “y’all” from my vocabulary. Maybe some day I will curse the snow, but I miss those gray winter landscapes, and we all miss poking around in the woods without fear of lurking alligators and snakes. But, I have no remorse haughtily saying see ya to cockroaches. Its been like a year abroad for us, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience the regional differences in the country, not just overseas.
I have made a list of things I love about South Carolina.
…in no order of importance:
- Meandering the trails at the James Island County Park
- Easy to one of the top ten beaches in America
- Sitting outside on the patio all year long
- This place. And the view from this bar
- Walking along the battery with iced tea on a Sunday morning, and stopping to let our son splash in the pineapple fountain
- The amazing quality of local fruits and vegetables available all year–and my new love affair with okra
- Hearing the trees rustle outside our bedroom windows (never the dull roar of sirens and traffic)
- The general lack of anything even slightly resembling traffic
- My rediscovery of a genuine yoga practice
- How my plants flourished here–my lavender blossomed this year for the first time in 6 years.
It has been a swell year, but I think if I was really honest with myself I knew we weren’t really going to live here for long. It was a fun temporary change, this sojourn in southern living.
(I have been thinking about writing this post for quite a while.)
There are possibilities everywhere, and it is hard not to let the mind wander toward exciting uncharted territory. There are the possibilities we actively seek out, taking their shape in goals, cover letters, bruised wrists, and brazen moves out of state. Then there are the possibilities that we can only wish and pray into being. We all wished to win the lottery (it helps to buy a ticket though), we wish natural disasters don’t occur, we wish for lovely weather when our far away friends visit; and I wished that I said the right thing in the right conversation that would have landed an offer of employment.
The HR rep greeted me warmly, and reminded me to “just breathe,” which I brashly shrugged off.
I could have used another breath.
I sat down parched, then thankful to see paper cups of water in front of each place. As the deputy director was going over some initial details, I gratefully sipped my cup. It slowly dawned on me that, in fact, there was no paper cup of water for me. I had just touched my lips and tongue to the executive director’s cup. Burning with apologies, I tried to move on from my error as the interview trio politely shrugged it off. There was probably a way I could have recovered from that egregiousness, but whatever it could have been was beyond me. Those interview questions I should have practiced would have come in handy then.
I walked out of that interview more defeated than I’ve felt in a very long time. I wallowed for the evening, and the next day. I perked up here and there, convincing myself my errors really weren’t all that bad. But they were. Oh reader, they were heinous.
This was April 1. For many reasons that I hope to go into with another post, I joined an instagram yoga challenge. So when I finally got that email that said, “thanks, but no thanks,” I had something else to think about. It was a moment of unseen, though very deliberate, creation, and it has re-ignited my buried passion.
I’ve done more yoga in the last two months than I have in many years…maybe ever. It has helped me realize that job was not my dream job, it was just a job. Looking back, I see my hesitations.
Self-sabotage of the best sort.
How did that spark inside me that trained to be a yoga teacher five years ago get so obscured? It is a little strange for me to be on the cusp of the next decade of my life, and still not know precisely what my career will look like. But I’ve been opening to new possibilities that I never would have seen if I got this 9-5 job I lusted after. Teaching yoga. Getting a 2nd Masters. Going to the beach every beautiful day with my son. Volunteering with the troubled local school system. Going to France and to live in a little cottage by the sea. Meeting and celebrating my new niece this summer.
Anyways, I felt like I needed to document this episode of my life, and thank you for reading. It is reassuring to know there is no such thing as a dream job, for me, right now. That position for included zero discussion of creativity. And yoga, definitely no yoga in the job description. So I’m settling in for a summer of possibilities manifesting, and setting the stage for a happy next decade of my life.
Surely Hafiz can’t be wrong:
“This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”
As I’ve written before, grocery shopping in South Carolina is quite different from how I used to shop in Maine and Massachusetts. It is not just the fact that it took three markets to find kimchi, and it was not hard to adjust to the lack of dedicated organic and Asian sections. The produce is generally plentiful and varied, and I know where to buy half gallons of rice milk and sprouted tofu.
However, I was completely bewildered yesterday by the interaction I had with the young man bagging my groceries. He picked up a container of tofu, and stared at it, shook it, then looked at me and asked, “what is this, some kind of soup?” Besides that one video I posted to social media earlier this week (Holocaust on a Conveyor Belt,) I generally try not to proselytize my vegetarian beliefs. So I responded, “no, it is tofu.” Realizing as soon as the words left my mouth how it probably sounded pretentious. The kid looked at me, and shook his head while he continued to bag my items. But what should I have said, “oh, that is a food made by coagulating soy juice and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks.” ?????
“So you must be some kind of vegetarian or something, huh,” he continued the conversation.
“Correct. I do not eat meat,” I replied.
“Oh man, you would hate to come over to our house, we have meat everywhere!” I suddenly remembered I’m in the deep south, and that guns and hobby hunting are popular here. I’m envisioning mounted animal heads, bacon toothpaste, leather sofas. “Not even chicken?” the kid asked.
Now I was getting testy. He was not trying (I don’t think) to be rude. But I felt interrogated. Here he was, looking at an intimate portrait of my life (thank goodness I do not purchase tampons at the grocery store), and questioning my lifestyle. I wanted to reply “especially not chicken” but I just smiled, and shook my head no.
Of course I did not open up the conversation with him further by telling him about my recent conversion to veganism (still in its infancy, there are animal products in everything!) but I was so shocked that here we are in 2013, and some people in this country do not understand a vegetarian diet.
Welcome to the South!
I am confused! I used to love living in Boston, the construction and the sirens were a charming white noise, and the hot stepping industriousness of the masses excited me, even if I was just pretending to be part of the pack on my way to Neimans. I loved living in a 874 square foot apartment stacked neatly above and beside other square living spaces. It was liberating to go to the grocery store and keep my head down, not making eye contact was part of the game (judge people based on their walk and their shoes, not their facial expression, I learned). I rarely got upset by traffic, I began to appreciate public radio and audio books, I walked everywhere I possibly could, and I outsourced all my errands that there was a market for.
Living in the city, we started to hold hands when we crossed the street, not for safety, but to feel a connection among the multitudes of people we were surrounded by all day. I shared tables at the library, knew where all the free dog bags were, sat rubbing elbows with strangers at bars, and discovered the easiest route across Mass Ave during rush hour. I learned to strip my pants off at the gym mere inches away from other women (it is much more efficient to forgo modesty when you’re changing into a bathing suit).
But something about my attitudes towards city dwelling has changed in the last three months. I guess I’ve gone soft in my new state of semi-retirement and stay-at-home motherhood. I have an expectation that people will return phone calls, & emails, especially when one spends 45 minutes composing the latter to a fellow new mother with solicited advice on things already learned. I have little free time, and believe me, I would have preferred to spend it working on my nano project, taking a bath and eating chocolates, bouldering, or playing with my toddler; not recounting my days with the nightmare inducing medela pump, or reliving my first days of returning to work after maternity leave. Sure, we’re all busy, in the city and in the suburbs, but what is it about some people who have such colossal stores of disregard for other people? Boston traffic illuminates this clearly: try driving near the city on I-93 between 3 and 5 in the afternoon, and please, try to find me one example of someone who isn’t entirely offensive and self-interested. The dudes driving the new mercedes or giant SUVs are on the ultimate ego trips, if you ask me.
Anyways, I recently returned from a ten day trip to New England. We flew in and out of Boston in favor of convenient flight times, and though I had moments of awe as I looked up at the skyscrapers, I was mostly disappointed by what I left behind. I spent six years of my life running in the city rat race, though I didn’t really realize it until going back. I joined in on restaurant week fun, tried not to be appalled when a friend’s husband nonchalantly ordered $100 bottles of wine, shopped for cocktail dresses at overpriced boutiques I’ve only ever worn once, attended various bridal and baby showers at over-hyped trendy cafes. I guess I did a fine job of feigning interest, but I have no desire to take part in those activities anymore. Don’t get me wrong, Boston is beautiful, and I loved my time there, but looking back my attitudes were all wrong and much of the time I was helping to perpetuate the Masshole stereotype. I was pregnant during our last seven months of living in our little apartment on Beacon Street, and in that time my husband and I nested, lived quietly, walked the streets and observed small marvels of life existing there; we grew kinder. It was quaint, and I had as much fun in those months as I had when we were regularly meeting people out on the town.
Living in the South, I think I am starting to understand what the Dutch (and Europeans in general) meant when they said that people get colder the further north you go, and friendlier as you travel south. I don’t know if it is the cold weather in Boston that gets people going on the rude train, but it is a lifestyle I am so glad I am no longer perpetuating. I wish I could go back and apologize to all the friends I cancelled on last minute, all the times I snagged a taxi when someone else five feet away was looking at it hopefully. I want to take back the crappy tips I gave to delivery food drivers for being half an hour late with our dinner because of traffic, and I forgive the pedestrians who walked out in front of me when my stoplight changed before they could halt their stride.
I’m not saying that people in the South are superior. I am sure I’ll find their (our?) faults soon enough, but the common sense of decency, gentility, and genuine kindness here is downright intoxicating. Definitely a pay-it-forward kind of society, whereas in Boston, I look back and see all the times kindness stopped because it was more convenient for someone (myself included) to hang on to it to get a leg up.
Whatever happened to a quick chat over tea? Or shows of thankfulness and appreciation? This is the season for gratitude, and I definitely saw very little of it in Boston. It was barely discernible in Maine which was disappointing to me, Massholes be Massholes, but I expected more from my home state. I had a wonderful trip, all the family and friends I did get to see were amazingly kind and generous, and spoiled my son with more love and attention than I ever thought existed.
But I’m not eager to go back. Family and friends have promised visits here over their cold winter, and this way I can avoid the rude stewardesses who gawk at me shuffling down a narrow airplane aisle with 3 bags and 26 pounds of dead weight. I miss the birch trees, but I think palm trees are a great holdover until we go back.
your ever loyal bloggess
P.S. In case you wondered, I’m taking a little social media (read: twitter and facebook) hiatus for the rest of the year. Time to focus on the family I have here, my projects I want to finish, and the new goals I want to get started on.
I am a terrible
stay at homemother.
I just want to admit it publicly, because too many people think I have it all together and apparently it looks like I know what I’m doing. Sure, I take my wee boy to play groups, feed him nutritious vegetarian meals, encourage him to express himself at the frustrating age of one. We go for daily walks, read for the prescribed 25 minutes each day, identify colors, practice sign language, sing songs. But I get bored spending 12 hours with a toddler every day. I’ve minded him in his room while playing words with friends on my iphone hidden in my lap. I do not always test the temperature of his bath water before dipping his toes in. I’ve found dog hair in his mouth, in his snot, in his diaper. His favorite hang out is the dog’s crate, and I’ve caught him putting his face in the water bowl. I’ll turn his stroller forward facing so I can have time to myself on walks. I use babysitters for no reason other than to catch a yoga class, or go downtown to get drunk with my friends. I’ve eaten the last piece of burrata I know he’d love. My bathroom needs come first when we walk inside after a long day. He cried it out. He has not tasted bacon. I
secretly can’t wait until he wants to watch Sesame Street and doesn’t need my undivided attention.
Of course he is my joy, my beautiful son, and it is so rewarding spending my days with him, blah, blah, blah, but really, honestly……rare is the day I put him to bed and feel deeply fulfilled. I’m often overwhelmed and exhausted, even today, when I had 15 hours off in between shifts. It is this time, pecking away at my laptop, or the 30 minutes before this when I was on my yoga mat, that give me servings of self-hood. I genuinely enjoy being a mother, but most days are frenetic and full of haphazard attempts to entertain my capricious offspring. I was a great new mother, monitoring and observing every change to his tiny body. But he’s now five times his weight from his birth day, and we’re necessarily becoming more independent and less reliant on each other. He’ll always be a part of me, but not in the same sense he was when developing from a fetus to an infant, or an infant nourished by my breast milk. Most changes are gradual, but they’re visible to us mothers all at once since we see our children every day. I didn’t notice that his top 4 teeth were rupturing his gums until they were visible baby fangs. I used to rue being a “working mother” during his infancy because I was so afraid I’d miss a first. But the truth is, the first time something happens doesn’t have to be our official recognition of the event. The first time daddy saw him walk is a precious memory to my husband even though he’d been doing it all day. I feel like personal development is as important as time with my son now because we’ll get bored otherwise. He needs to see other faces than mine all day, lest I have a 29 year old living at home with me in as many years!
So when I write, or practice yoga, I regain my mother courage, to step away from my son and let him grow and learn about the world without me hovering above. Writing and yoga are chances for me to step back and look around, or look at myself inside. Everyone has their own definition of what makes them happy and there are many opinions on what constitutes a nurturing childhood. I think I am doing my very best to give my son what he needs. Sure he entertained himself on my ipad for 15 minutes after his bath tonight, but earlier today he looked at squid and jelly fish, touched a sea urchin, watched an underwater pumpkin carving contest. I’m not trying to justify my parenting deficiencies, just making sense of who I am and what I am capable of as a mother. I’m happy to bake some peanut butter banana muffins for our weekly play group (with coconut oil and South Carolina peanuts, of course), but I am not so sure I will be a rapt observer each soccer practice, and karate kick that I once assumed I had to be. There are all sorts of trendy labels people give their parenting style. Maybe my ever growing album of “baby-in-a” pictures (baby-in-a fountain, baby-in-a kitchen aid, baby-in-a purse, baby-in-a miniature Ferrari) could give rise to some witty name. Container parenting. Shifting boundary parenting. Senseless parenting?
I used to think my wedding day was forever going to be the most memorable 24 hours of my life. Yesterday was my son’s first birthday, and (forgive this hackneyed allusion to the archetypical woman’s life) I can confidently say his birth now ranks most memorable in my temporal lobe. Memories of a whole new person were initiated a year ago, and even though I sometimes can’t remember what I ate for lunch, October 23, 2011, feels like yesterday. I wonder if it always will.
So much has happened in the last year, but baby’s birthday is my most cherished memory. The smell of copal (which we only light on special occasions, like last night) ignites memories from our wedding, but I’m not able to remember the tiny details of that day anymore. I am glad there does not seem to be a fixed capacity in the brain to store sentimental memories. I would be tempted to choose reliving the days of being young, falling in love, and meeting my child over practical functions of the brain like walking, and remembering that 841 is one of my favorite non-fiction sections in the library. There is a lot of pressure in the beliefs I follow to stay in the moment and not to dwell in the past. But my dreams–a place where I spend 1/3 of my time after all–is made of beautiful and excruciating memories which have made me who I am today.
But on my son’s birthday, I feel justified to dwell on the past. He hardly appreciated our celebrations and special activities–a trip to the toy store, a walk around a special island, a visit from adopted aunties, and a waffle cone full of mint chocolate cookie, a special dinner. So I felt happy to accept the day on his behalf, reveling in the sun and the air, not trapped to a bed in a hospital. Life is so fair, because without a doubt, next year the labors from his birth will be a more distant memory, like how my wedding day is now. I will always remember the essentials: unyielding physical pressure, sharp seemingly unbearable abdominal cramps, the incomparable relief and overpowering happiness and love, a beating Mexican sun tempered by soft clouds and northern breezes. I’m glad I will always have my dear husband–and now my sweet child–to remind me of special days, physical proof that we existed in those pictures that simultaneously look like years ago–my baby is now five times the size he was a year ago, and yesterday–I have looked basically the same in pictures since I was 17.
Next year I’ll be happy to plan a real party for my son’s growing memories. I feel like your first child’s first birthday is for the parent’s nostalgia, and that is what we observed. Happy Birth day, mom and dad, and of course, our sweet son!
I’ve had a terrible habit lately of taking things for granted. I make weekly trips to the aquarium, the beach, the pool, and the farmers market with my son, and rarely do I pause to wonder if it is going to be the last time. Last week I interviewed for a job I know would suit me…I might be offered the position and suddenly be a working mother again, facing different adventures and routines.
I was thinking about this today on an afternoon walk. We live in such a beautiful neighborhood, we can walk out the front door and be engulfed in forest and nature moments later. Before we moved I always longed to get out of the house and look at the natural world, but living in the Boston area made it complicated. The parks we lived near were surrounded by highways, and even Boston Common couldn’t offer the serenity I get from forests. Today we easily got to see the real world: deer, squirrels, butterflies, snakes, spiders, flowers, frogs, a great spectrum of earth. I’ve been expecting a phone call all day though, so I had my phone with me. The baby had fallen asleep, and the dog was obediently trotting beside us. My hand seemed magnetized to my phone. Like just because I had it, and just because it was possible, my hand tried to check my email. I caught it, put my phone back in my pocket and took a deep breath of gratitude. I have few responsibilities, and few people rely on me right now. These days are surely numbered, whether I get a job next week, or two years from now, I know I will not get to spend all this time with my son, my dog, and the woods forever. I mustn’t wish for change, when one day I know I’ll be longing for these carefree–and yes, even boring–days of stay at home motherhood.
We ended up taking a very long walk. I fell into a trance, hypontized by the beautiful afternoon sun and clouds, the warm breeze. No mosquitos to chase away. I stared at the treetops for miles, wondering what I could do to have this view forever.