Baby sister no more, and yet always

I remem­ber the first day of Decem­ber, eigh­teen years ago. It was a soft, snowy morn­ing on our farm on the west­ern edge of Min­neso­ta, and my two sis­ters and I had fin­ished feed­ing the goats and chick­ens, and had some­how wan­dered down to the end of our short dri­ve­way, where we were engaged in a play­ful fight with quick-packed balls of the wet, heavy new-fall­en snow. We were osten­si­bly watch­ing for the arrival of our chi­ro­prac­tor, delayed by the weath­er, but we had most­ly for­got­ten about that after a few min­utes of joy­ful squeals.

Then dad’s voice rang out across the silent yard.

If you want to see this baby born, you bet­ter get in here now!”

Oh, things were hap­pen­ing fast! We wal­lowed across the snowy yard, tum­bled into the house, and—no doubt leav­ing our win­ter clothes is a tan­gle heap in the porch—we qui­et­ly piled into Mom and Dad’s tiny bed­room which was today the birth room. And it was not long at all before a tiny new sis­ter slid into the morn­ing light and into our lives.

We had a spe­cial bond (I think) all the years I was still home. There are a great many pic­tures of the grin­ning teenage Me with an equal­ly-grin­ning wee sis­ter in my arms: “My two ends” our moth­er always called us fond­ly. I walked her to sleep for her naps, often to the sound­track of the bois­ter­ous Russ­ian clas­si­cal music I was so fond of in those days, or the jaun­ty Bea­t­les songs I was just then dis­cov­er­ing (or The King’s Singers’ cov­ers there­of). One of her first words was “Help!” to request the song of the same name.

And then off I went to col­lege, and I nev­er came back. Not to stay, any­way. She has grown up a great deal since then. Her expe­ri­ence of being a home­schooled teenag­er has been very dif­fer­ent from mine, prob­a­bly inevitably. She is a very tal­ent­ed musi­cian and dancer, although I have almost no first­hand knowl­edge of her impres­sive per­for­ma­tive vir­tu­os­i­ty, since my adult life has kept me large­ly far away in recent years from the excit­ing events back at my fam­i­ly seat. I have missed out.

And now she is eigh­teen, get­ting ready to leave the house her­self very soon, just as I did back when she was just mas­ter­ing the abil­i­ty to form whole sen­tences. Dance through life with con­fi­dence, Lit­tlest Sis. You will be awe­some.

Will we have a farm?

My fam­i­ly and I have spent a beau­ti­ful week­end on a work­ing “vaca­tion farm” in rur­al New York. Grow­ing up as I did in a almost-entire­ly agri­cul­tur­al region, the idea that city dwellers would pay good mon­ey to dri­ve sev­er­al hours out of the urban bus­tle so they can wake up ear­ly and feed some chick­ens is more than a lit­tle bizarre to me on the face of it. But, at the same time, I do kind of get it, too. I under­stand the invig­o­rat­ing appeal of the farm rou­tine, the close­ness to the land and the cycle of life, the seem­ing sim­plic­i­ty of it all. Hav­ing been a city-dweller myself now for near­ly half my life, I trea­sure great­ly the years of my youth, and I pray every day that I can some­how find a way to give my own fam­i­ly a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion before too many more years are flown.

But such an idyl­lic goal is not with­out min­gled trep­i­da­tion. I have a uni­form­ly poor track record so far with any­thing resem­bling adult respon­si­bil­i­ty, so I present a pret­ty shady prospect as a landown­er and ani­mal-ten­der. My wife has long shared this dream with me, and now she, too, won­ders anew how fea­si­ble it might real­ly be—whether we might not be aim­ing for more than we can handle—and that maybe the small town life might be close enough to the coun­try to sat­is­fy us: the social safe­ty of neigh­bors and pedes­tri­an acces­si­bil­i­ty to ameni­ties and com­merce instead of the pos­si­bly-risky bucol­ic soli­tude of our our home­stead. And we are speak­ing of safe­ty not from rov­ing bands of post-apoc­a­lyp­tic maraud­ers, but from our­selves, from the trou­bles that iso­la­tion can bring if embraced in quan­ti­ties too great to be han­dled. That, I think, is what we both most fear.

Is that suf­fi­cient rea­son to give up on milk­ing our own goats every morn­ing, send­ing the boys out to hunt for chick­en eggs, watch­ing the sun set over our pota­to patch? I don’t know. Our men­tal and emo­tion­al health, the integri­ty of our phys­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al lives, the respon­si­bil­i­ty of eco­nom­ic realities—these are big things to have to weigh. The months and years ahead shall be very inter­est­ing for us…

All Things Must End (Even This Year)

And so anoth­er year comes to a close, and with it the first decade of this much-vaunt­ed third mil­len­ni­um.

A lot has hap­pened in these ten years. Some build­ings got knocked down by hijacked air­planes in 2001: that was quite a dire start to the decade. As a result — or using that trag­ic event as a thin excuse, if you pre­fer — the coun­try of my birth has been at war in far-away lands ever since, as well as hap­haz­ard­ly slap­ping togeth­er an end­less and impo­tent cul­ture of fear in our own part of the world.

The end of that year saw the end of a long but future­less per­son­al rela­tion­ship for me, but I entered the new year full of hope, and in Jan­u­ary of 2002 I found the love of my life. In 2003 I got mar­ried to her, and after a brief year of lov­ing cou­ple­hood we became par­ents togeth­er, and then three years lat­er it hap­pened again, and now, three years lat­er, it is hap­pen­ing yet again. (I’m real­ly not sure how this keeps hap­pen­ing.) Mar­ried life, fam­i­ly life, has been a lot of things, but most­ly it has been real, and that is good.

My pro­fes­sion­al life, too, has cov­ered a lot of ground in these ten years. At the start of the decade I was just becom­ing a low-lev­el man­ag­er at a Barnes & Noble store. Four years lat­er I made the leap, neces­si­tat­ed by the recent birth of my first son, to a soul­less cubi­cle job shuf­fling through thou­sands upon thou­sands of mort­gage files and prepar­ing them for archiv­ing in a vast gray ware­house. That near­ly destroyed my soul, but for­tu­nate­ly I was res­cued, thrown a life­line, and I escaped to the tiny data­base sup­port team in the same build­ing, where I was able to learn a whole set of skills I had no idea I would ever encounter, and far more impor­tant­ly I was able to work with a group of peo­ple who real­ly cared about each oth­er, and made work­ing togeth­er some­thing joy­ful. I will always miss that aspect of that time.

But the voice of voca­tion was not silent in my life, despite years of neglect on my part, and in 2009, with the sup­port of my wife, I final­ly set foot upon a path I had been pulled toward for quite some time: the study of canon law, prepara­to­ry to a life work­ing as an expert in the inter­nal law of the Catholic Church. I am now in the midst of my first year of grad­u­ate stud­ies in this area, hav­ing left all my gain­ful employ­ment behind and thrown myself on my local church for the sup­port of myself and my grow­ing fam­i­ly; I can hard­ly say how grate­ful I am that they have been so will­ing to catch me and hold me (so to speak). It has been an excru­ci­at­ing­ly chal­leng­ing time for my fam­i­ly, but the light is start­ing to shine bright­ly through the clouds once more, and there is much to hope for in the years ahead.

And now the decade is over, and in the morn­ing a new one will dawn. What will the next year, and the next ten, hold for me? I cer­tain­ly could have pre­dict­ed very, very lit­tle of what tran­spired over these past three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-two days, so I won’t even pre­tend I have a clue what to expect from the com­ing three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-three turns of the globe. But I am sure hop­ing that I can make a sim­i­lar­ly san­guine report to each of you at the oth­er end of this decade, too.

Hap­py New Year, every­one. Don’t stick beans up your noses.

Hello? Is this thing looping?

This just in from our Depart­ment of the Sur­re­al:

Eight years and three weeks after I walked out of the sem­i­nary with the last box of my stuff into the cold world out­side the green­house walls, my lit­tle broth­er has entered the exact same sem­i­nary. The mind of this writer is still work­ing its way around this devel­op­ment, and the going is slow.

We will report on this more ful­ly as soon as our brain stops gib­ber­ing…


What does it mean to pro­vide? To be a provider?

I am the sole provider for my young fam­i­ly, by which is meant that my twice-month­ly pay­check as all the pecu­niary influx to our famil­ial cof­fers, and by exten­sion all that lies between us and star­va­tion and death. Undu­ly melo­dra­mat­ic, of course (when am I not?) but you get the idea. I work long and hard to earn the mon­ey we need to pay our bills and eat.

But is that all that it means for me to pro­vide for my fam­i­ly? Is it pure­ly a mat­ter of financ­ing our way of life, mak­ing pos­si­ble what­ev­er stan­dard of liv­ing we deem desir­able, appro­pri­ate and attain­able? To put it anoth­er way: should I be bring­ing home any­thing besides mon­ey?

I feel that there should be more to it than that. I feel that I should be bring­ing home more of my self at the end of each work­day; the amount of self I have at home should be greater than the amount of this com­mod­i­ty I have to expend in the work­place. I feel that I should be able to enjoy my fam­i­ly after a day’s work, real­ly enjoy them, not just stum­ble along behind them for a few dull hours between hom­ing and my bed­time. I should have such work as allows me to keep the greater part of my spir­it to live and love.

But at present this is not the case for me. I am con­tin­u­ous­ly drained of all ener­gies. At home I am a bro­ken use­less thing, a bur­den to my dear wife rather than a help and a joy. On my morn­ing way to work I often began to weep invol­un­tar­i­ly as the build­ing comes into sight; it is almost more than I can bear to think of, work­ing anoth­er long day like like the day before.

This is not, to me, an accept­able cir­cum­stance. I need to be hap­py. My fam­i­ly needs me to be hap­py. Not gid­dy every minute of every day, but able to laugh and play and read a sto­ry to my son and go for a walk and wash a sink­ful of dish­es after sup­per. Able to smile and say, “Well, at work today.…” I don’t need a job I love; I do need a job I can like, enjoy, excel at, and do these things with a min­i­mum deple­tion of my frag­ile soul’s con­tents. I can­not afford to pour out my life at work; I have peo­ple at home who need me to pro­vide a hap­py, lov­ing, vibrant hus­band and father.