Family


It’s been an epic year for our little Kamin family.  Baby girl has grown by leaps and bounds. We switched to one income. Almost a year ago my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer and underwent two incredibly invasive surgeries, all while unsure if the c-word would win the battle anyway.  The circumstances and ensuing emotions, both new ones and those from stowaway baggage, have been exhausting.  I don’t have a lot to say about it yet, but a nap sounds wonderful.  🙂

Here are a few of the gifts in our lives that keep us afloat:

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Seriously.  These macaroons are quite the picker-upper.

Seriously. These macaroons are quite the picker-upper.

We are so grateful for the sustaining fellowship we’ve experienced through our faith, family, and community this past year.  It gives us great hope for the future.

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My little Isla,
This is my first attempt at writing anything since you were born. It will be sketchy and clumsy. But that’s not because of you. You’ve been a welcome distraction from the fact that I was already seriously struggling to write. I think I posted six times last year total, and most of them were with a lot of stress and hesitation. But your dad kicked me out of the house this morning with my lap top and a free latte card, so here I am. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. On the contrary, your birth is probably the biggest event in my life. That and marrying your dad, but birth is far more dramatic than a wedding (assuming everyone crucial shows up).

There are several babies here and so I’m distracted and missing you already. Maybe especially because you were still sleeping when I left. There’s also a table of older men and that makes me weepy right off the bat. Old friendships. Vulnerability. Babies. Seriously beautiful stuff at the coffee shop this morning. Also some pretty impressive beards – so while I’m happy to be here, part of me wishes you and your dad were here to share it. 🙂

I haven’t told you this yet, but I spent many years being scared to death of motherhood. Personal issues, fears of screwing the whole thing up, awareness of my own selfishness all made me hesitant. (Not to mention actually giving birth!) And I’ve come to believe American culture contributes to those things by obsessing about the value of autonomy for adults and also of a perfect childhood for kids. But here’s the thing: I was so, so wrong. I love you and I don’t have to try. I want to take care of you and I don’t have to force myself. You are beautiful and interesting and I don’t have to talk myself into seeing it. I hope you experience it someday – knowing that love can be so powerful and one-sided is a great boon to my understanding of the love from God. And of the love he hopes to see in all his people for each other.

When I fell in love with your dad, it happened very quickly, and then more slowly, and over again. Choosing to love someone comes with starts and stops and decisions and fears, but not so with parenthood. There are no hesitations or issues of requiting. You are my family and I love you. Just like that. Blown out diapers don’t change that. Trouble sleeping, refusing to eat when you desperately need it, the stuff of babyhood – none of it closes my heart to you. If anything it opens it more and pulls at its strings as I wish I could fix it all. And I know that will continue as you grow and change. I am no longer afraid of anything compromising my desire to give of myself for your sake, and I will always be grateful for that discovery.

I love you, sweet Isla Jane. May you grow in the knowledge of that, and that it is only an inkling of the love that awaits you in your relationship with the Lord.

isla sleeping

Last month I heard a British comedian complaining about the manipulative emotional aspect of the Olympics. He felt the same way about all the commotion surrounding the most recent royal wedding and actually expressed relief at being away from it all in America. (If I were a British comedian, I’d move to America, too. Jokes only have to be half as funny when you have that accent.) When questioned about his lack of patriotism, he said he felt that pride in where you’re born is inherently foolish since it’s completely out of your control. The same in essence as declaring that you are proud to be “Caesarean”. And it was funny. And I think it was also true.

Since Jaron and I learned we have a baby girl joining our household this fall, I’ve had surges of homesickness that are different and more intense than ever before. The idea of raising a daughter in a land I didn’t experience as a child is a bit intimidating. What will be special to her about this place? How can we pass on some of what it meant to be children to us when we grew up in California? Is it possible to be as fond of rolling hills and lakes as we were of mountains and waves? And how in the world can we ask our child to grow up without regular access to Peterson’s Donut Corner??

I’ve lived in several states, traveled a bit, and I like to think I’ve been somewhat enlightened by the experiences. But when I think of where I come from and of the roots my child will establish, I get extremely specific and foolish ideas of what they should be. As if life in the Shadowlands is the number one priority and that it must involve swimming pools and beaches and breakfast burritos or I will have failed my child. As if roots in those things would help her be who she is made to be, when ultimately she is not made for this world at all.

I feel like I’ve been gone a long time.  Not from writing, but from Nashville.  It’s only been eight days.  It was supposed to be five, but early Sunday morning, while we were both asleep, my grandfather passed away.  A surreal twenty-four hours; my mom and sister had thrown a shower to celebrate the little girl Jaron and I are preparing to welcome this fall.  Women from my past and present came and gave gifts and kind words and prayers.  Every one of them is a mother, proving, I guess, that I’ve taken my sweet time with the whole progeny thing.  🙂

After the festivities I went with my parents to visit Papa.  He hasn’t been doing well for some time, and honestly, I haven’t always visited him when I’m in town, shying away from the awkwardness of telling him who I am.  But this time Jaron and I went along to see him and whether he was settling in to his new nursing house, where he’d been for just one day.  He looked good and I told him his great-granddaughter was excited to meet him next time we come to town.  He was confused, but seemed to know I was being friendly.  He asked us what we thought of the weather.  I shook his hand when we left, afraid that our customary kiss on the cheek would confuse him further.

Still, while his mind has rebelled against him, his health has always been good, so it was a shock to arrive at my parents’ the next morning to the news.  It amazes me how you can walk in on a scene that looks completely normal, but immediately know that something has gone very wrong.

Mom and I spent one morning going through his things, noting how temporal the “treasures” we hold onto really are, finding dust and decay everywhere, and feeling relief for Papa, that his worries and loads have finally been lifted for good.

Papa had a taste for experiences, both fancy and fun.  His homes were professionally decorated, restaurant meals had multiple courses, often with seafood from his native New England, and he traveled the world before it was common to do so.  But he also had a jar of jelly beans near him at all times and loved to find surprises at stores or around the house to give to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He was an actor at the Old Globe and loved whimsy and fanfare.

As he had outlived his friendships and extended family, we had a small ceremony with family and tried our best to do justice to his favorite food.   The lobster, not the jelly beans.

Our baby girl has lost her last two great-grandparents while in the womb, one a spiritual leader and the other a creative leader.  We hope and pray that she takes after them both.

Every once and again on a holiday or weekend, Jaron and I will declare a “cabin day”.  It’s a time to shun personal electronics and try to retrain our brains for a slower, more present way of living.  We make meals that take time, listen to music without lyrics, make sure Banjo gets a long walk, read, and most of all, look around.  It’s a time when, as Jaron said, “the cardinal regains its rightful place” as the most enthralling thing to vie for our attention over coffee.  Sometimes I get my way (read: on my birthday) and we even camp out in the living room with our dog the night before.

It used to be that I looked forward to these times with a little trepidation.  I’m pretty sure Portlandia got their idea for the technology loop skit by watching me.  My mind isn’t very good at being idle, and when it is I realize how idle my body and spirit have been, too, and to be honest, I’m just too lazy to let that happen very often.

This year we are invoking cabin days for all of the lenten season, and while I know it’s a long time and there will be moments of frustration, I really can’t wait to start.  I love being exposed to different pieces of writing and music online, seeing what my peers are working on, and hearing from people I don’t get to see in my day-to-day life.  But much of the time my mind receives sharing as an entry in a competition for whose work is most worthwhile.  Or whose haircut.

Last week Andrew Peterson shared a Huffington Post link – a short article with Nick Cave’s response to his nomination for the MTV Music Awards several years ago.  I was shocked and relieved to read it.  Finally, a reminder that competition in art, whether for money or attention, is a mutation of its purpose, a cheapening of the source of beauty.

The sense of my hands in the dough, or the sound of their interaction with the strings, of honesty in a song that is too difficult to communicate any other way, of enjoying a long laugh with my spouse and refraining from diluting it along the information waves.  It sounds like the good life.  Like indulging in freedom.  I’m looking forward to this time, even just the feeling of it coming on.

I work at a grocery store.  The week before Thanksgiving is our “hell week”, so to speak.  Kicking off the retail season with the toughest work we’ll do all year.  Unpracticed customers are often cooking from scratch and entertaining family at the same time – enough to put anyone on edge.  Add to that the modern-day demand that your Thanksgiving meal be some forward-thinking, healthier, tastier, prettier, more impressive version than last year’s, and you can hardly blame folks for the panic they feel.

However, alongside the panic is perhaps the most communal holiday celebration of them all.  There is little political or religious offense available when you wish someone “Happy Thanksgiving!”  Smiles abound and reasons to be thankful even slip into short conversations about turkeys and vegan gluten-free stuffing.

From the chaos of carts and smiles and scowls yesterday, I went upstairs for a quick lunch and to make a last-minute plan for our own small Thanksgiving meal.  I flipped through month-old magazines, their covers torn off and sent back to the publisher for reimbursement, rejected and ready for recycling, but still full of fancy recipes, a few of which I may be able to pull off.  And there, of all places, on the third page of Real Simple, my friend, Mr. Chesterton, interrupted to have a word… and what a word it was.

“You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

G.K. Chesterton, from an early notebook (mid-1890s)

So much fussing over a table of food, but is that really the focus of the harvest season?  Or the first thanksgiving feast my nephew is re-enacting at preschool?  We recreate the details we’ve inferred, with some plain omissions and substitutions.  (Or maybe there were marshmallows on the sweet potatoes back on Plymouth, too, I don’t know.)  We hope that somehow a lot of food and taking a turn before the meal to impress each other with the very deep things we’re thankful for will… will what?  Set us up to indulge in laziness for an afternoon?  Make amends with family members in time to get a better Christmas gift out of them?

What’s the goal of the day?  Is it a time to revel in our resources?  Maybe.  Is it a time to celebrate the grace that brought us here?  Definitely.  Would we celebrate if we were alone?  I wonder.  To whom would we voice our thankfulness?  What is grace or gratitude without community?  Where can they live without relationships?

So often in the what and how of holidays, I skip right past the source of celebration – my community.  A God who loves and cares, people who are vulnerable and allow me to be so.

Say grace, says Chesterton.  Speak blessing and thankfulness before meals, before the play and the opera, before reading a note that may be full of spelling errors, or hearing a song that may very well be better than the last one I wrote.  Speak grace before dishing up a serving of lumpy gravy.  Speak favor and pardon to one another.  Speak grace to the turkey (or soy bean) who gave its life for your sustenance.

Thank you to our community, near and far, for the gifts you bring to our lives, for the examples of grace, for the beauty you bring us from chaos.  Favor and blessing on you on this day of feasting and on each day that follows.

In the last 30 years (read: my lifetime) I’ve had the fortune of watching several members of my family grow to very old age.  Eight of them lived to their eighties, one all the way to one hundred.  She especially grew sweeter as she grew older.  Her body became dependent on the help of others, and her heart seemed to follow, finally embracing what it had always needed.  She doted on her great-grandchildren, spent hours studying the pictures of a great-great grandchild she’d yet to meet.  She was tiny, sweet woman with beautiful wrinkles, bright eyes, and terrible hearing.  Her eyes were clear and blue through the end and she taught herself to read lips with them, so that while she struggled to participate in group discussions, she persisted with one-on-one conversations and tenaciously kept abreast of her family’s affairs.

My childhood memories of this woman are distinct from the later years.  I have clouded images of an old house with a fascinating church organ we were not allowed to touch.  It was slightly dank and the pink-tiled bathroom may be solely responsible for my continued aversion to that color.  Nana didn’t talk with us much then, that I remember.  She worried a lot and had neck pain that bothered her intensely.  She mostly sat in her rocking chair and adjusted her  brace, her feet occasionally touching the floor.  My sister and I would sit across the room or explore carefully outside while we waited for the visit to end, never stepping too close to the small fence which continually sank further over the eroding cliff that bordered her property.

When she moved into the retirement home, it was with readiness for her life to wind down.  She could no longer take care of her belongings or keep herself in health.  She whittled that house down item after item to fit into a small kitchen-less studio and anticipated a small and quiet ending.

But she was wrong.  Nana lost her independence, the home where she raised her child, the neighborhood she had inhabited for fifty years.  She gave up what had become her life, and she then came alive.  She signed up for water-color painting and we each have her paintings displayed in our homes.  They are simple, but beautiful.  She took a tai chi class and felt the pain in her neck lessen.  She had friends to lunch with each day and took it upon herself to learn the geography of her new town, though she never drove a car again.  She took pride in “treating” us to breakfast with her saved up dining points and wasn’t satisfied until the table was filled with every variety of juices and Eggo waffles available.

Most people in my family maintain that giving up her home and responsibilities added many years to Nana’s life.  And when eventually her health outlived her money, her dependency, and her joy, reached yet a new level.  She became less and less the woman we had known, or even she had known.  If you ask Jaron to do his impression of Nana, he will put on his best high-pitched voice, turn his head to the side while he snaps his wrist and says, “Oooohhh, ooh!!”.  In her later years it didn’t take much to make Nana smile and even an attempt at a joke in her presence got you the rich reward of that expression which Jaron felt the need to master.  She thought less and less of herself and became younger and more beautiful in the process.

As I approach the second third of my lifespan, I think often of Nana.  Here’s to the force of aging.  Here’s to the loss of our self-sufficiency, control,  and possessions, which we would never accept if given the choice.

Tonight I’m making salad for my aunts and uncles.  Watching the vinegar reduce.  Watching it become sweeter over heat.  Thinking of my Nana, and looking forward to an evening basking in the beauty of the people surrounding me, while I can.

(It’s a fun autumn salad, if you’re interested: Caramelized Beet and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad)

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