Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Family Photos and Quotidian Mysteries

Last night my daughter came into the kitchen clutching a green photo album. Every time I look at those family albums, I think about friends who are caught up in the scrapbooking craze and whose albums are well organized, labeled, and so perfectly laid out. Not mine. I am blessed to have a camera that puts the date on every photo. I know that “real” photographers out there think those neon numbers at the bottom of photos are an anathema to the art of photography. For me, they are a Godsend. Those dates make it possible for me to put off placing the photos in albums for as long as I like. I never have to worry about what order to put them in. The date says it all. I have fallen behind by two or three years at a time, but when I sit down to do it, it’s a breeze. Anyway, last night, Kristiana had chosen one of her favorite albums and asked me to look at it with her. The album contained images from when she was two years old. Photos of her little friends, our neighbors at the time, of my pregnancy with Daniel, his water birth, and the first few months of his life brought back so many fantastic memories. While looking at the images of Daniel’s handsome, but miniature, face and Kristiana’s obvious adoration of her little, I yelled out to Steve who was in the family room, “I want another baby.” He just laughed. So did I. Just over seven years ago, within weeks of Daniel’s first birthday, I underwent surgery to prevent me from making a rash decision based on seeing photos of our beautiful babies. At the time of the operation, friends asked me why I was doing it so soon. “What if something happened to one of your children?” First of all, I was taken aback by the idea that I would have a child in order to replace one that was lost. That never occurred to me. Secondly, I had the wisdom to look ahead to nights like last night and know that I didn’t want to wake up at the age of 40 (in this case, 38), find myself with a few free hours during the day, catch a glimpse of a young mother pushing her stroller down the sidewalk, look at Steve, and ask if we could have another baby. My darling husband, sweet and generous man that he is, is not known for denying me much, so if he didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to turn me down, I’d be looking at another round of diapers and middle-of-the-night feedings. No, Gail, no more kids in the offing, but those photos sure were great to look at. There are photos of the kids in a curly blond wig that I bought somewhere. Even Daniel, poor abused child, was not spared its presence. Unwittingly, he sat in his high chair, shoving Cheerios into his miniscule mouth with that handful of impossibly large and lewdly bleached blond curls atop his nearly bald head. There are photos of both of them asleep in their high chairs with food on their faces. Bare bottoms in bathtubs were another recurring theme. Then there are the photos from our trip out to Phoenix when Kristiana was three and Daniel was just four months old. His first flight. Our only trip out west as a family. We were there in January, but the temperature rose to nearly 70 during the day. Having escaped the bitter cold of Stamford, CT, we were glad to sit poolside for a few hours each day. Daniel was dressed from head to toe to protect his fair skin from the sun’s rays; those oversized sunglasses made him cry every time I put them on him. Kristiana, on the other hand, was wearing an orange and green bikini. She was the most beautiful girl out there. She was also the only girl out there, besides her mother, who was still carrying a few extra pounds from pregnancy and was most certainly not sporting a bikini. All the hotel staff and the rest of the guests thought we were crazy to be out there; they thought it was too cold. An hour and a half later when we went inside to get dressed, Kristiana peeled off her teeny, weeny bikini to reveal a suntan that reminded us of those ads of yesteryear: that little girl who pulled down the back of her bathing suit to show her fanny tan. We had no idea the Arizona sun was so strong in the winter. Kristiana didn't care about that; she was proud of her “stripes.” The photos of her 3rd birthday party brought back memories of the first house we lived in as a family. It was a townhouse on Hope Street in Stamford. We loved that place with its four levels, spiral staircase, and freakishly friendly neighbors. The walls were hollow, but our lives were dense with laughter and homemade pasta sauce and cloth diaper changes and car loans that had to be paid off. We moved from there to a raised ranch in Norwalk, an acre of property with a pool, an enormous lawn out front where Daniel learned to hit a baseball high and far, and the basement room that would become our first homeschooling room. With our California Closet desk that ran the entire length of the room and a white board Steve ordered from the Internet, we christened ourselves The Silvermine Academy, and we have been a traveling schoolhouse ever since. We have taken field trips to Puerto Rico, Italy, Spain, Florida, all over New England, and all along the east coast. We are hoping to take our show on the road next spring, exploring several cities and villages in Great Britain. But for now, we are in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city I’d never even visited before Steve accepted the job here, where that same wall-to-wall desk is covered with workbooks, pencils, three computers, Bibles, dictionaries, and various other ephemera related to life and learning that seem to pile higher and higher by the day. Last night as I looked at those photos, especially the series taken of me in that infamous Demi Moore pregnancy pose, I marveled at the lives that have grown inside of me. I look at Daniel now, eight years old, playing computer games about sports, reading books about sports, writing haiku about sports, and otherwise showing signs of physical, emotional, spiritual, and athletic health, and I am in awe. I look at Kristiana who is eleven years old, a voracious reader like her mother, with an imagination that makes Barbie dolls, Bratz dolls, and Beanie Babies live out stories that even soap opera writers couldn’t fathom, and I am in awe. I cannot believe that my body created two other living beings with bodies and souls of their own. Although there will not be any other baby Belsitos emerging from these hips (or that doctor at the Birth Cottage in Poughkeepsie will have a lot to answer for!), I often wonder what else lives within my heart, mind, and spirit that is waiting to be birthed… I cannot deny it; ours has been a blessed life. Lest I wax too sentimental and sappy, I will hasten to say that there have been speed bumps along the way. Steve and I lost our fathers within nineteen months of each other. We have had divorce, death, serious illness, and job loss hit far closer to home than either of us would have liked. In fact, we have either experienced or come perilously close to all of the above within our own immediate family. Daniel suffered a terrifying allergic reaction to peanut butter while the children and I were in Colonial Williamsburg a couple of years ago. Kristiana bit through her tongue as a young child and the blood flow was enough to make this “almost-medical-student” blanch. Steve drove himself to the hospital late one Saturday night after complaining that he had had several hours of chest pain. I wanted to call an ambulance. He wanted to be the macho man. It turned out to be a pulled muscle that nearly pulled my heart out of my chest. But as we have faced every oncoming life tornado, we have battened down the hatches, weathered the storm, and lived to see another cliché. As I prepare to go through another day of homeschooling, cook another dinner, mop another floor, and do another load of laundry, I find myself gratefully looking forward to the routine of it. There is comfort in the ordinary tasks of life. One author refers to them as “Quotidian Mysteries.” There is a mystery as to why we get to live so well, laugh so often, and suffer so little. There is a mystery as to why I have such loving, caring, encouraging, supportive friends in my life. Yet in the ordinariness of it, there is profound mystery. But this is a mystery I don’t want to solve. I will let this one be. And daily I will lift my heart and my hands in thanks to the God of All Comfort, Grace, and Mercy who has seen fit to make the quotidian so marvelously mysterious. The final words of a book I cherish say it so well: “I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”

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