The coming years have everything in place to be among the sweetest in my life. My husband and I are relatively young and healthy and we have the most awesome little sunshine boy after some tough, dark years. If all goes well, he’ll have a sibling before too much longer and we’ll get a chance to see them interact, Ali as the fearless leader no doubt. Once they’re a little older we can take trips with them and introduce them to the wider world and watch their wonder.
This spring we have so much going on. Ahmed is taking swim lessons now, after a lifetime of fear of the water, and making so much progress. In a couple of weeks Ali will start baby swim lessons with me as his sidekick. Next Wednesday I’m traveling to a small college town to give talks about Palestine and writing.
Ahmed’s birthday is at the end of the month, and I FINALLY have a hand mixer (I tried last year to cream sugar with my arms, and it just didn’t work — finally someone took pity on my cheap ass and bought me one), so Ahmed’s annual chocolate cake (round, double layer, with homemade buttercream frosting, strawberries, and sprinkles) should be extra fluffy. He was gaga over his homemade cake last year (after several years of store-bought mixes), and I thought it was crumbly and flat and slightly bitter from the only espresso powder I could find, namely crumbled up freeze-dried instant coffee. (What was I thinking?)
So excited about this one. He’s not gonna know what hit him.
There’s a pick-up soccer group that plays Saturdays and Sundays, and Ahmed and I have been each taking a day on weekends. It works out nicely. Once our soccer leagues start (I’m doing co-ed, he’s doing men’s over 30), I’ll play Friday evenings and he’ll play Sundays.
In May I’m taking an oil painting class that meets 2 hours on Thursday nights for 3 weeks. I got a yoga barre ten-class pass as a birthday present to myself, so I just have to figure out when to start doing that — when I can fit it in.
I’m also doing Sarah Duvall’s Pelvic Floor Perfect program and TRYING to find the time and mental space to FINALLY start working on my novel again.
If Ali drops a nap, I’m doomed.
When he is awake, I need to start taking advantage of different ways to get out of the house with him so he doesn’t get completely bored with his little kingdom that he shares with our cat. (I try to rearrange the toys and play structures and what’s in the drawers and cabinets to keep things at least a little fresh.) The cold weather has put a damper on my will to leave the house, plus we don’t yet have a title for the car my little sister’s husband gave us (a 2008 Rav4) — they did some paperwork and will get the title to us in about a month — so we can’t register it yet, and I’m leery of driving around on expired California plates.
And of course Ali’s first birthday is coming up on April 9! I can’t believe it’s coming so soon. He’s such a little toddler already, but it’s still a crazy milestone. He’s changed so much since his days as a chilled out little cuddle blob. At one year he’s really, truly not a baby anymore. He’ll have fully aged into toddlerhood.
We probably won’t throw a party, unless we maybe travel to my brother’s place 2 hours away and just have a fun day with his kids. We basically don’t have any friends with kids the same age as Ali, and I know you can just invite people and enjoy it as adults and kids of all ages, but our apartment is not built for entertaining. We don’t even throw parties for our own birthdays. We’re solid introverts and would be very happy never to have to throw another event, ever again! But probably when Ali gets older and has friends his age, we’ll have to reconsider. For now I’m glad he won’t know the difference 😉
There will be some kind of smash cake, though. Oh yes there will. Maybe berries and whipped cream? Or maybe a proper cake. Haven’t decided yet.
He’s started yelling lately. So manly, like he’s commanding troops or trying to get a rowdy orchestra to shut up and listen to the maestro. It’s not super often, but he can get really loud, his little chin tucked, his eyes up, his mouth wide, his voice deeper than you’d expect from a munchkin. Ahmed says he’s just trying out his voice. It’s pretty awesome.
Meanwhile the planet is probably in the best shape it’s going to be in in our lifetime. Some animals have rebounded in the past few decades but many more seem to be declining, more pristine places lost or degraded, more beauty turned into disposable chopsticks and cheap soap. Even as I do my small part to try to make things better, I really should enjoy and cherish what’s still here.
Things are so good, but like I’ve said before, that can put me on edge. Happiness to me is what a plane flight is like for someone who has a fear of flying. They feel like, if they relax for one second, the engines will explode and the plane will plummet to the ground. For me, if I dare to relax and enjoy life, I’m terrified something awful will happen.
And it can happen. My cousin Michael had a wife and two girls, ages 8 and 11, but he was diagnosed with a brain tumor a couple of years ago, and complications from the treatment killed him last month. He was 41. Who can wrap their head around something like that? I sent them a guardian angel tree (a potted cypress with a golden angel ornament), and I’ll send them a care package this week: made-from-scratch caramel M&M cookies, journals and pens for all 3, a meaningful book for the kids, a meaningful book for the widow — The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, a stuffed animal for each kid, Oreo hot cocoa, herbal tea, and ethically sourced scented soaps.
But it’s nothing in the face of a loss like that. So senseless and unfair.
I wasn’t super close to Michael. I’ve barely seen him in the years since we were kids playing at their lake house in Texas for a week most summers. He was a dentist, a Republican, and I only made it down to visit them for Christmas once a decade or so. We all just kind of grew apart. But my Aunt Barbara was the first one to buy me a gift from Ali’s registry, and she and my cousin Katie and Michael’s wife Stacey all made it to my wedding. (My Uncle David did, too, but there was a misunderstanding and he left, angry, thinking I had brushed him off. I had, in fact, emailed Barbara about a venue change, but she never got the email. I also told my dad to tell them, and he never did. I should also have called them directly to make sure they got the message, but it was my wedding day, and I figured two modes of communication were enough. Oops.)
Anyway. I knew Michael had health problems, but I was absolutely shocked to get the message that he had passed away. He was family. One of only two Olson cousins I have. He’s the only male Olson of his generation, and he had only daughters, so the name is coming to an end. (I kept my name, but Ali has my husband’s name.) I just didn’t expect his story to come to an end so abruptly. It’s unnerving to say the least.
It has spurred me to cherish my life that much more, even in the face of fear. If it does come to an end tomorrow, today can still be as good as we can let it be. All of it, from my healthy ankles to Ali’s little cackling laugh, is so precious and fleeting. So golden.
It’s not my 20s, exploring the world with wide and shining eyes. My 30s went by in a blur of new love, book tours, fertility issues, trips to Turkey, an epic West Coast road trip, and finishing most of a novel.
As my 40s approach, I’m learning to be less hard on myself, enjoy the simple things more, and breathe and allow happiness. I’m working hard to be a better person for my son, to end generational cycles of harshness and neglect, and that alone is such a worthy and difficult and humbling undertaking.
I find that I can genuinely enjoy cooking and baking and cleaning and tending to Tornado Ali (though of course sometimes I do get tired of it or just grumpy in general). I can find peace and satisfaction with it. It is possible, I mean. If not for some ineffable sense of duty to do “more” with my life, I have a feeling I’d be perfectly content, like an old Buddhist monk, with simple, direct service and companionship for a long time to come.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s me “dropping out of” life or “dropping into” life.
Sometimes I wonder if the feeling of duty is a call to serve in a wider capacity or just internalized misogyny / denigration of typically feminine pursuits.
I used to think I’d muscle my way into a place in history. Now — other than whatever good it may do for people and the planet — I honestly couldn’t care less.
It’s funny how I feel guilty for working on my novel because it’s “self-indulgent” and I feel guilty for not working on it because I’m neglecting a calling and maybe a duty.
Sigh. There’s still so much to unpack, but I’m here for it. I’m meditating and journaling more regularly than I have in decades. I’m feeling changes happening and excited for more growth.
I don’t know what the future holds, but the next decade can truly be amazing, as scary as it is to allow myself even a little bit of optimism. And as much sadness and guilt as I carry that not everyone is nearly as lucky as I am and I’ve done nothing to deserve such fortune. And knowing very well that it could all disappear in a blink.
I can’t control everything, but I can make a given day as good as it can be for myself and my little family. And God help me, I’m working on that. I’m trying.
And I’m feeling pretty good.
P.S. I had insomnia the night I wrote this. I was buzzing with too much happiness, and that is very unsettling for me. But a good thing to feel unsettled by! Another sign of change, I think. Growth is never easy.