Friday, January 24, 2020

New Gig, New Digs

I started a new job last week. Since my twins were born – 13 years ago – I’ve worked primarily as a freelance writer. This has allowed me to (mostly) work around the kids’ schedules, from pre-preschool through elementary school, soccer practices through sick days from school, toddling to as-tall-as-I-am. It’s also meant that most days I have worked from the home office – and sometimes the dining room table.

The new gig allows some work-from-home time, which is great. It also involves two days in an actual, not-at-home, office, which is also great. But it’s a transition. I haven’t had to commute regularly, at least not beyond the two flights of stairs from the main floor to the upstairs office, for 13 years. I’ve gone to work in my slippers, or flipflops, depending on the season, for more than a decade.

Last Monday, I climbed into the car in work clothes and real shoes, full travel coffee cup in hand, and headed along the backroads between New Hampshire and Vermont to a new (to me) office in an unfamiliar town. Along the way from home to work I drive through a handful of other small towns, past houses older than our republic, along fields mowed for generations and rivers older than time.

And then I arrive in a quaint New England village not unlike myriad other quaint New England villages dotting the landscape from the northern mountains to the eastern seashore. There is a tall, white-clapboarded church standing next to a small green, with a general store just across the road from the old house where my office sits. Mine is a room upstairs, on the right, with two green-shuttered windows looking toward the neighboring house, a placement very similar to my childhood bedroom in the 1720s house where I grew up (in another small town in a different state).

My second day at the office, I headed out for a fresh air fix. My colleague suggested I explore the short trail through conserved land just behind the office. So I walked a little ways down a quiet road, then turned into the woods and continued on a path that followed a river (I don’t know, yet, the river’s name) and traversed tall trees and giant glacial erratics.

I was happy to learn of this path so close to the office, and I expect I’ll walk there many times as the seasons shift. Eventually I popped back out onto Route 10, walking past the elementary school and the post office, then stopping into the general store to peruse the offerings.

The driver of the first car to pass me when I returned to the road waved as if I were an old friend. Perhaps she thought I was someone else. But I like to think it’s a small town thing that – like the school and the general store, the church and the common – translates from one place to another. Whatever the reason behind the wave, it contributed to the feeling of welcome I felt in this unfamiliar-familiar landscape, a bit further from home than I’m used to being. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the January 24, 2020 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Shifting Normal

I have a confession to make: I don’t always know what to write about.

I consider this space, which I’ve filled twice a month for the past nine years, to be a place of mostly happy, occasionally bittersweet, musings. I’ve written about gardening and hiking, skiing and stargazing, loving pets and raising kids. These are the things, often, that fill my time.

But there are weeks when I come up blank. Maybe, if you’re a regular reader here, you’ve noticed some columns – the weeks when I struggle to find relevant subject matter – are a bit less zippy than others. Then again, the columns I consider mundane are often the ones people seem to like best. I guess there is value in the everyday.

I often dismiss the ideas that come to mind for various reasons. The kids don’t always want the details of their day-to-day lives shared, and I have to respect that. I don’t like to write about anything political, because there are other places for that – and, quite frankly, I’ve never been all that great at persuasive writing. There are things that happen in my world that I sometimes want to write about, but can’t figure out how – or that I figure no one really wants to read about anyway.

And there are weeks like this, where anything I’d care to share seems, well, just plain trivial.

Australia is on fire and has been for weeks. Closer to home, the weather is all sorts of out-of-whack in what feels like a new normal – until it changes again. It’s snowing as I write this, but we’ve only had a few very cold days this season, and Saturday’s temps are forecasted to top 50 degrees. There’s no longer any such thing as a January thaw, because we’re in a repeating freeze-thaw cycle.

There is political discontent everywhere you turn. It’s exhausting on so many levels – and we haven’t even made it to the First In The Nation Primary yet. 

The kicker is that my children have asked me several times this week if we are on the brink of World War III. For all you grownups out there who think kids aren’t paying attention – well, they are. They hear more than we think they do, and they understand more than we adults often give them credit for. And this is the stuff, sometimes, of playground conversations.

This week, it just feels like writing about the snowy woods or the busy holiday break just passed or the joys and struggles of raising almost-teenagers is a bit like ignoring the many elephants in the room. And yet it is that ordinariness – getting the kids up and out of the house in the mornings, meeting work deadlines, driving the Mom Uber – that keeps us moving forward.

Somedays the weight of the world is heavy, no matter how little of it each of us is charged with carrying. It is hard, on those days, to know what to do or say or even feel.

And so I carry on, as people have forever, with the day-to-day. I go into those snowy woods with the dog. I ski and write and watch the kids play in the snow. I help with homework (when I can) and figure out what to make for dinner. I snuggle with the animals and love the kids and keep looking up at that starry sky. And all the while, Normal keeps shifting. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the January 10, 2020 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Winter Wonders

Early this week, my youngest child and I walked home together through the sparkling darkness of the first night of winter. It’s not a long walk from my folks’ house, where we’d been to a Christmas party. Maybe a quarter of a mile, a journey of 10 minutes or so. Short though it was, that was the best part of my day.

At first, my daughter wanted to use the flashlight of my phone to see, but I convinced her to turn that off, said our eyes would get used to the darkness – that we could find our way by starlight. “The stars give off so little light,” she said, though she acquiesced.

Off went the phone light, and we set out to navigate through the dark, with only the glint of stars above us and the glimmer of snow below. Vague outlines of tree branches reached inward and upward from the sides of the road as we stepped toward home. No cars drove by, no dogs barked, and we heard no voices but our own, talking about this and that.

We walked slowly through a wide tunnel of trees, descended the little hill near home, and turned onto our own driveway. As we reached the openness of our field, our view of the stars expanded, and I picked out the few constellations I could and pointed them out to my daughter. The Seven Sisters, Cassiopeia, Orion with his distinctive belt. We searched for the Little Dipper and speculated where others might be, shifted now from their summer locations.

With our heads turned upward, we exclaimed quietly together when we identified a recognizable form in the sky and marveled at the vastness of so many stars twinkling overhead. They may give off little light, those stars, but that does not diminish their magic when you’re gazing at them from Earth, as a tiny human amid a vast universe.

We both agreed we had made a good decision in choosing to walk home, rather than drive.

This type of quiet, one-on-one time with any of my children is rare. And as they approach teenagehood – with two of them arriving there in mere weeks – we are all often busy with various activities and responsibilities. And our mother-child discussions are, well, not always so relaxed and agreeable.

As I held my daughter’s hand and listened to her sweet voice, I breathed it all in – the cold December air, the twinkle of stars and snow sparkle, the serenity of this moment under the winter sky.

I’ll tuck it away with other winter wonders. The richly layered colors of sunrise, late though it comes these winter mornings, and the alpenglow lighting the peaks in the evening. The sparkle of snow on trees. Rosy cheeks and warm socks. Hot cocoa and a blaze in the fireplace. A soft blanket to wrap up in.

The quiet of darkness. Stars shining in the cold night sky. My child’s hand to hold, as long as she’ll let me.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 27, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.