The Memory of Chairs
My problem with New Year resolutions is that for most people, they seem to focus on sucking the joy out of things. Instead of berating myself for not having the same body as I did before my baby, or promising to learn a new language, or picking apart any one of the many ways in which I’m imperfect in the name of self-improvement, how much better it is to simply use the freshness of this new year to stop and admit it: I’m good enough. Not just good enough. Beautiful. My life is beautiful. And rather than using the start of 2016 to treat myself as a list of things that need fixing, I want to use this time to celebrate the blessings in my life.
List of Good Things, Lately
1. These two are always at the top of my Good Things list. Always. They are the two people I love most in the whole world, my husband and baby.
And here’s another photo of Liam and Sweet Baby playing together on an exercise ball. Their smiles! You guys, their smiles are the best.
Also, there is a bit of a story to the exercise ball. Since Liam and I have spent so much of our time (and money) traveling, we don’t really own as many practical items as the average family. After moving back to Australia from Norway, we did splash out and buy a gorgeous sofa and ottoman with custom fabric. We’re fancy people, no? (Spoiler: The actual answer is no.) But everything else is a bit of a hodge-podge, mostly pieces picked up from thrift stores and gifts or hand-me-downs from family members.
Long story short, our kitchen table has a total of three mismatched chairs with it. And not to point out the obvious, but this means that if we have more than one guest over for supper or tea, there aren’t enough chairs to go round. Solution? The exercise ball gets rolled out to the table. And it isn’t even our exercise ball. It’s a borrowed exercise ball that stands in for a fourth seat. And you know what? I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful that instead of using our money for furniture, we used it for traveling around the world. Buying nice chairs doesn’t create beautiful memories; sleeping in a palace in Udaipur, India does. For example.
2. I recently made a new friend who recommended a new (to me) thrift store. And going there paid off big time. Look at the haul of picture books I got in just one visit there! The library is going to start sending its patrons to our place to borrow books.
Even before he was born, I decided that Sweet Baby should have the best book collection ever. Not just the greatest quantity, but also the best curated collection of books. Most children like to hear their favourite stories read over and over and over again, so I’m very careful when buying books to only get the ones I won’t mind reading to Sweet Baby a dozen times a day if he requests it.
And every single one of these books in our recent haul excites me, even as an adult, to read and pore over the illustrations! This pile of books includes seven titles by Lauren Child, including a bunch of Charlie and Lola books, as well as the most charming version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears I’ve ever seen. Then there’s the books and characters I remember fondly from my own youth — Paddington Bear, Eloise (both the original and the Paris sequel), three of the Madeline books, a perfect copy of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, The Brave Little Owl (with a gorgeous set of embossed illustrations), and several books by Richard Scarry. I spent my toddler-hood obsessed with locating the little glow worm hidden in every Richard Scarry illustration, and have the feeling that Sweet Baby will, too, when he’s old enough. There are too many books to reminisce over each one individually, but I will lastly mention the oversized edition of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. I dearly loved this story as a little girl– the bravery of the one-legged soldier! the enduring love of the tiny ballerina! — but the ending always made me want to cry, so much so that I’m considering skipping the last two pages when I tell the story to Sweet Baby.
3. Reaching further back into my own childhood, my parents’ approval was something I constantly needed to earn — chiefly through my appearance, my grades in school, and my unquestioning obedience. Sometimes I succeeded at these things, and sometimes I failed.
But my Nana would often hug me tight to her chest and tell me, “I will always love you. It doesn’t matter what you do. You’re such a good little girl and I hope you grow up to be a good person, but even if you don’t, I’ll love you just the same.” I might’ve been incurably spoiled if all the adults in my life lavished me with such unconditional approval, but having one person in my life who promised to love me no matter what was . . . a necessity.
After she died, I held onto one of the filmy, polyester scarves she’d often worn wrapped around her head. It smelled of her, a haze of Charlie perfume mingled with the personal scent of her body. I would pull it out from my top dresser drawer, close my eyes, and breathe her in on the nights when I needed her.
But though I kept the scarf in a tightly closed drawer for many years, eventually the smell of her drifted away. Then, while I was living abroad, my parents moved house, and unknowing of the emotional attachment I held to my Nana’s scarf and the blankets she’d crocheted, these things were thrown away in my absence. I was heartbroken.
When I received a Christmas box from my parents this year, it arrived several weeks late. In fact, I only got it a few days ago. It held a variety of nice but inconsequential presents — fancy soap, a variety of socks, my favourite candy, that sort of thing — and amidst all the other boxes and scraps of wrapping paper inside the larger shipping box, I never noticed the tiny box at the bottom of it.
“Oh, we missed something,” Liam said as he sifted through the paper debris for recycling. “This one’s for you.”
And I opened up that tiny box to find a handwritten note and a gold ring inside. My Nana’s wedding ring, the note explained.
It’s the best present I’ve ever received. I love how it looks, simple scallops looping around in an orange blossom design. But to be honest, I’d treasure anything made or worn by my Nana. If I’d been given an oven mitt she’d owned, I’d be nearly as happy with it. That my keepsake is a beautiful gold ring perfectly fitting my own finger makes it just the tiniest bit more special. I can now keep close to me something precious worn by the woman who always, always loved me.
4. Remembering my Nana produces a mix of strong emotions for me, happiness tied in with melancholy and longing. But since this post is about focusing on the blessings in my life, let’s leave on a note of pure happiness. Sweet Baby always cheers me; it’s fitting that he gets both the first and last spots in my Good Things list.
One of Sweet Baby’s many qualities I adore is how he often curls himself into a little ball, especially when he’s feeling cuddly. Thinking of this, I affectionately described Sweet Baby as a sow bug to two of my friends. I remembered sow bugs from my childhood as little creatures who would roll up into a ball when gently prodded. Cute, no? (Spoiler: No.) I did a google image search of sow bugs, and this is what they look like close up:
And now I feel the mama guilt for comparing my own Sweet Baby to a sow bug.