Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Happiest Years

I knew they'd be my happiest years before they occurred. I knew they were my happiest years when I was in the midst of living them. And I remember them as my happiest years now, long after they've passed.

The years from 1983 to 1995, from when I was 27 until I was 39, were filled with birth, life, love, and growth. Everything in my life was new, fresh, and continually changing in the most wonderful ways. Relationships were sprouting and growing. I felt needed and loved, whole and complete. Friendships were abundant, family was ever-present, nurtured, and nurturing. Home was the center of the universe. The sun shone on me then, figuratively and literally, in Southern California.

A few snapshot memories from those years:

1983: May. A wedding. A beginning. The ceremony was held late in the morning at the Wayfarer's Chapel in Palos Verdes, right on the ocean. The fog hadn't quite lifted yet, but my mind and my heart couldn't have been more crystal clear. It was perfect.

1984: I worked at Disney in a new venture called "Personal Computer Software." I didn't quite understand the technology of it all (still don't!), but I fully understood the characters that we'd bring to life on a different sort of screen. With a team of four others, I designed simple, engaging and very primitive electronic games called Donald Duck's Playground, Mickey's Space Adventure and Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood. Big-wig managers continually rejected the art, insisting that Mickey's ears be perfectly round, as they are on the painted cels in Disney movies. We told them that there was no way. They asked, accusingly, what needs to happen for Mickey's ears to be perfectly round. We told them that technology needs to be more advanced. They approved the pixelized art -- "for now."

At home, I nurtured a growing belly, loving every minute of my changing body and my changing life. We moved from a small apartment in Santa Monica to a small house in Westchester, almost directly under the LAX flight path. Elisabeth -- whom we named Erin -- was born in May, after a barely perceptible labor.

1985: Life with a new baby. Amazing! All my life, from the time I could remember, I'd wanted babies. And this was better than anything I'd ever imagined. I had a full-time career an hour from home (in LA traffic), but it was a fulfilling, creative career and my child had a loving, doting grandma-type who came to our house every day to love and dote. I missed Erin hugely, but knew she was in good hands.

1986: After Disney, a supposedly family-oriented company, refused my proposal to job-share with another producer, I left to take a part-time design job at Educational Insights. It was closer to home as well as more manageable hours. Perfect again.

1987: Peter was born in February, after a very long, very hard labor. I thought, 'How can I ever parent a BOY?!' Peter was a calm, sweet, adorable baby. I was amazed that I had even more love to give! Where does all this love come from, so fruitfully? Is it unending? Life was amazing -- and being victim to an 11% company-wide lay-off barely fazed me, as I was floating in home-happiness and happy to leave the work world behind for a while.

1988: We moved from a rented house in a noisy post-war LA neighborhood to purchased newly-built home in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Oceanside, near San Diego. Bliss was putting it mildly. I had a happy marriage, two adorable children, a brand new house full of decorating possibilities, and a group of fast friends whose lives paralleled mine, with new babies, new houses, and new dreams. My days were spent nurturing, loving and laughing... and cleaning, cooking and organizing. It was perfect. I was happy.

1989: Sixteen weeks into our third pregnancy, at our first ultrasound, we were told that I was carrying twins. Everything went white for a brief moment, and then I remembered a game of Life I had played with my family when I was about 10. I "spun" boy/girl twins in the game and burst into happy tears. My three brothers made fun of me and my parents found it "touching," but I remember that there was nothing I'd rather have in real life, and I secretly hoped for the next 20 years, that the game of Life I'd played at 10 would be predictive. And it was!

Alexander and Katherine were born at the very moment that the Berlin Wall was brought down in November -- just perfect, as my father was a German Jew who had grown up near that wall.

1990: With four kids under the age of 5 1/2, I was busier than I'd ever been before -- or than I'd ever be again. But I also felt more purpose in life than I'd ever felt before -- or than I'd ever feel again. Days were spent at neighborhood and twins' playgroups. I was learning to cook for the first time -- something my mom never had any interest in -- from a dear neighbor friend. I attended (and hosted) Tupperware parties galore. I lived the life of a typical young suburban American wife and mother. Life was busy, I never had a moment to myself, I was needed every minute of every day... and I couldn't have been happier.

1991 & 1992: A blissful blur. Today, when I hear music or watch a TV show or movie made during those years, it's a completely new experience for me, as I was almost completely out of touch with the popular culture of those years. My life was lived within the bubble of our family, our home and our neighborhood. That's all I needed. That's all I wanted.

1993: We moved to Eastern Washington, where Tom, who was an environmental engineer at the time, had found a position as a Principal Engineer at a place called Hanford Nuclear Reservation. While he was tested daily for radiation as he arrived at work, I blissfully decorated another, larger, newer home and brought children to and from the park and preschool and the mall. Erin changed her name, quite defiantly, to "Elisabeth" (her middle name) and never answered to "Erin" again.

1994: We went to Washington with high hopes of a fulfilling career move for Tom, but he had next to nothing to do at work. It turned out that his Principal Engineer position was all "for show," because Hanford had to have X number of engineers on site to clean up the nuclear mess that had been made in the years since the nuclear bomb was hastily created on the site -- leaving almost an almost unimaginable amount of nuclear mess behind. It bothered us to be associated in any way with that act in our history and to the death and destruction it caused. It bothered us to live in a town where the high school mascot was the "bombers." But the kids were happy, we had a happy home and a beautiful house, and life was good.

1995: Tom found a job in Seattle and we left Hanford -- and our beautiful home -- behind. I went back to work part-time designing educational computer games for Edmark and the twins started kindergarten. In December, Tom was laid off and I started full-time work. Two weeks later, in a storm, a huge tree fell on our house, destroying all but one upstairs bedroom and totalling both cars. It took a year to clean up the mess and make the house livable again.

The "blissful" part of life had suddenly ended... though I have never blamed that on our move to Seattle because I LOVE Seattle. Instead, it's just how life happens. For many years after 1995 I waited for "bliss" to return, but it never did.

I know I can't go back. I can't bring back the blissful first years of marriage, the magical early years of childhood, or the confident sense of absolute purpose.

These years are so different. Marriage is something to "hold together." Children become independent -- as well they should -- finding their own confident way. "Purpose" has come to be defined job status and salary level.

From 1995 until now, I have travelled the road of my life as it lies before me, but instead of reveling in each step of the journey, in the place I find myself at any given moment, I've been looking ahead, wondering if there's any adventure, any color, anything that will bloom and blossom, on the road ahead.

My fear is that there IS adventure ahead, that there IS purpose, and that there IS bliss, but that I'll miss it. I don't think it's on the path itself as it was earlier in my life; I think it's probably hidden quietly off the side of the road and that I'll need to LOOK for it this time, notice it, and pursue it. Will I know it? Will I be ready for it? Will I be quiet enough to hear it? Or will I be looking behind me too often? Will I not looking in the right place when I should? Will I not be listening? Will I be making too much senseless noise and miss it?

I fear that I'll miss my life because I'm stuck on this dusty path looking for the next sign that says "Your Life." Earlier in my life, I didn't notice or need any of those signs because I KNEW exactly where my life was. But now I find myself looking for and relying on those signs and I can't find them!

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1 comment:

Lilly said...

I watched the movie "Man of La Mancha" for the first time yesterday. In it the wonderful Peter O'Toole as Don Quixote says, "Look always forward: in last year's nests there are no birds this year." Your post reminds me of his phrase...

I'm sure that you'll find whatever good things are next for you because you're that kind of person. You're attentive and a seeker.

Out there in the blogosphere there are some wise women like Brittarnhild (at http://www.brittarnhildshouseinthewoods,typepad.com) and women like her. She and others have mostly grown children but it seems that their lives are as full as ever.

I wonder the same things as you. If my main bliss now is dependent on the joy I get out of taking care of and being with my son, how will my life be when my son is grown? You, as a mom, were the center of the universe for your kids, people you were in love with and they with you. How can you replace that kind of situation ever again? Other things kind of pale in comparison with the urgency of that wonderful relationship. Maybe we can't expect anything to be as blissful as that in the rest of our lives even if that's hard to accept.

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