Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September (MB)

Today is the first really chilly fall-like day this season here in Madison.  It really feels like you might be sorry if you left the house without a substantial hoodie or closed-toe shoes.  Up until now, we’ve been having the most glorious September you could ever imagine.  Well, I guess the way I’ve framed that is very colored by my personal preferences; I just ran into somebody who was raving about how refreshing today felt.

Me, I’m a lover of warm weather, and with this brisk day I deeply sense the encroaching limitations of deep fall and winter and, for that matter, much of the spring  – on hours of light, on our ability to go out without dressing in layers, on our energy as we slightly hibernate, on our activities and on the ability to see green life in our midst.  So for me, those warm bright blue days in the 70s and low 80s, with white puffy clouds and a slight breeze, through about, say, yesterday, were perfect in the most pure aesthetic way.  But they were also an extension of freedom.  I was still bombing around in my flip-flops and not caring whether the kids were properly dressed (at least in the weather sense) when they left for school.

And yes, from a social perspective, fall has already long since begun.  We were at the Willy Street Fair briefly this weekend – the last festival of the season; Peter and I went to the Badgers game on Saturday which was like a cornucopia of blissed out traditional fall Wisconsin fun.  Kids have been in school several weeks now.  There have been football game Fridays, Spanish quizzes, lengthy pre-calc assignments, and seemingly already countless packed lunches.  It’s going to be a good year, I keep telling the kids.  10th and 7th grade. . . . 10th is the year I started really deviating; 7th is the year all other parents around here seem to think must be endured by plugging one’s nose and waiting it out. Notwithstanding those somewhat superficial associations I may have with the particular grades, I’m convinced we are going to have a great year.
We definitely had a great summer.  We stuck close to home as you know.  A big summer trip really wasn’t an option, and this scenario really opened up some quality of living here in Madison and in Wisconsin in general that it’s easy to miss out on when you are cramming all of your vacation days and expenditures and “family time” into one big trip.  We had a lot of family goings-on in the early part of the summer, as you might imagine, after my grandma’s funeral.  My grandma’s passing at the very beginning of the summer really put a focus on things.  I have spent a lot of time this summer thinking about what matters in life, to be honest.  That my summer was already planned to be close to home fit well with that thought process.  We spent time with my sisters and their families, we got good slow time in La Crosse and the surrounding (gorgeous – only discovering how gorgeous 35 years after being born there) area with my parents.  We went to the famous Madison Saturday Farmer’s Market (8 blocks from our house but easy to miss when the travel plans and pace get going) many times, we went camping and fished and watched the Brewers and went to the State Fair for the first time.  We golfed and paddled and spent time with the many, many cousins.  We were really good Wisconsinites this summer.  We even had some poison ivy in the family, to prove it.

This summer we also had some interesting encounters with some new elements for our little family.  For one thing, we had a 100 year drought here.  It was kind of scary.  The resilient Midwestern earth was a scorched wasteland.  People were freaked out.  My garden died almost completely (partly because I just gave up after a point.  And, for the record, as bad of a gardener as I am, I have never had a garden do this poorly).  People around here started talking about this being the “new normal”.  I have a client that does work on climate change issues, and those folks are basically like, this is Exhibit A to what’s really going down.  I suppose I’m now about to commit the common sin of simply recognizing that it was freaky and glossing over, moving on.  I promise to ride my bike and burn less gas and buy less meat and . . . . really, I will, but that’s a whole other blog post and for now I’m trying to squeeze out this re-cap of some other summer stuff.

As for another new element for us this summer -- as you know, the beau has bought a large house in the old, distinguished, monied neighborhood of Maple Bluff.  Now, mind you – he seized on a deal that landed him there.  Not that he’s not doing well for himself, but it’s a little bit “there goes the neighborhood” that we’re even up there, you know?  Anyway, this summer that included some tennis and pool time at the country club, some neighborhood gatherings that look NOTHING like the block parties and house parties we used to rock back in the day on the near east side, dear Abby.  I got to throw some backyard parties to get everyone else that always invites me and the kids over back (I don’t even try in our little old house anymore, but the Maple Bluff backyard is perfect!)  We did some house-sitting for extended periods while beau was out of town, and you hear birds and see chipmunks when you get up in the morning, as opposed to my (still lovely) city dwelling which seems constantly bombarded with the sounds of sirens, people in the street fighting, and general traffic noise.  I know, I know – you live in L.A., and you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about – Madison?  Yes, actually.  Really.

So we hung out some up in Maple Bluff and at first this seemed like it would be an illustrious fun adventure for the summer.  With complete open-mindedness and a slight hint of excitement that maybe I could play-act or be the outlier or just adjust to belonging in that world TOO, I was rather looking forward to a potential extended adventure in this somewhat cloistered, aesthetically gorgeous new slice of Madison.  But, true confessions: it didn’t take long for me to honestly realize and feel that it’s just not my scene.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.  I mean the natural features can’t be beat.  But you have to drive up and down a hill to even so much as get a newspaper, and, maybe I need more time, but I just didn’t feel the vibe of the people all that much.  I guess for now I think there’s nothing about that world that’s all that enticing to me now that I’ve seen it.  I guess if I happen to get to enjoy it and be invited “in”, I’ll continue to enjoy it as possible. 

I know you know all about needing an escape or theoretical “other world” from the world we usually dwell in. How many years did we gather around the kitchen table in a neighborhood in Madison that people engineer their lives around getting to live in, and both talk about our respective (imagined or real) next moves, steps to get out, etc. Now you’ve really made yours. Me, not so much – well, or at least not in the last 7 years or so, after all the international adventuring stopped and I had to get to work here. I guess Maple Bluff was a little escape for me, and in the end it was kind of like a vacation to a place that’s really pretty and you have really good memories of, but you’re not exactly planning to move there.

Peter and Madeline both shared in the Maple Bluff experience, became occasional country club dwellers, and also ran into a few new elements of their own . . . Peter was a caddy, so got to see what being a service provider was all about, and what making money of his own was all about, which I think made a pretty big impression on him, actually.  He’s already talking about maybe we can’t take a vacation next summer because he’s going to have a job (I’m convincing him every job permits time off).  Madeline is on a full-fledged campaign that this virtuous city-living in an old house in an eclectic neighborhood is total CRAP and we should have long ago moved to where her cousins live in Holmen, Wisconsin, where everyone has brand new houses with fresh carpet that are three times as big as ours but cost about the same amount (she actually knows this; I’m not kidding – the kid reviews house listings online to verify the basis of her arguments).  She reminds me that their schools have enough money that they don’t need to have PTG fundraisers, and they have brand new gym equipment, and the people there are not all hippies who don’t let their kids shop at the mall, etc, etc.  You get the point.  The girl is on to the very significant impact a very well-intentioned decision made eleven years ago to live on Madison’s East Side and raise these children in this accepting, progressive community (or as it is thought of by some, anyway) has had on, well, everything in her world.  And, she’s not so sure she appreciates the woodwork of our 110 year old rental home or her ability to bike to school along the river path or the summer festivals in our neighborhood or that any other factor really outweighs her interest in fresh construction, a finished basement, and a posse of girlfriends with good make-up and hair.

Speaking of moves, you are now in L.A.  Frank has a new job, Henry’s climbing the ladder of his Hollywood acting career, Jimmy seems to have found some things to get excited about there (although, more information, please), and Charlie has started kindergarten (!).  I feel like maybe you could write all day and I’d still need to see this all with my own eyes.  However, I really wouldn’t know since you haven’t written (aw, snap! – just kidding).  Anyway, we must, must get out there next summer.  Tell us more in the meantime – please!
I guess on my side of this blog, and in my little family, we’ve all done a little digging in on where we’re from, where we are and where we really want to be (all things being equal).   There’s been some slow and steady realization of what sheer goodness, albeit not glitzy, we come from and have before us here in Wisconsin with our big crazy extended family.  There’s been some reckoning with the truly specific and odd combination of factors that make up our life on the Isthmus in Madison.  And then, there’s been that healthy dose of escapism too, especially for Mads.  Although I must admit that observing Peter taking driver’s education and working this summer, and now starting Year 2 of high school, my new thing is a combination of the real deal AND escape, which is – in a few years the whole game changes again for me.  Maddy and I will be sending our Peter off to college in less than 3 years, and if the past is any gauge. . . I’d better hold on because it’ll be here soon.  What will that next chapter be like for all of us?  For now, I’m trying to use the awareness that it’ll come one day to slow me down here today and here with what I’ve got and make sure I’m doing right by it and planning for the future but not letting myself get too bogged down with work and planning and stress to savor and enjoy and again, do it right and not frenetically.  It’s really really hard to do that, and it’s so cliché to even say it that I don’t want to even say it.  But, that’s what I got.  I did a good job at points this summer, and I’m trying to carry that forward.  Work is full of challenges but very very good, I am earning, I am making progress on goals with various things, and I am really trying to be thoughtful about these kids and who they are and what they need and want and how I play into that.  I know I can’t hold on to notions of control, but I still have a pretty big job in the whole process.

September’s always that time when you can see things visibly changing, you hold on a little to the freedom and warmth of summer, you enjoy the freshness in the air but note with some pause the pending changes. . .l what’s September like for you? 

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