My Man In the Wing Chair

While I was spending my first (always insomniac) night postpartum in the hospital, J and Roo snoring softly on either side, I read The Awakening of Miss Primsomething I’d been meaning to read for ages. Unsurprisingly, given all the recommendations I’d received, I loved it.

Prudencia Prim is a practical modern woman looking for escape, who finds it in the eccentric job posting for a private librarian in a small French town. She soon finds herself working for the equally frustrating and charming Man in the Wing Chair, organizing his enviable private library and taking part — somewhat unwillingly — in the life of the household, where he’s raising his nieces and nephews and educating others from the village. Almost despite herself, Miss Prim is drawn in to the unusual community, challenging everything she held dear.

Along the way, she receives the wonderful advice:

“You must not aspire to finding a husband who’s your equal, but one who’s absolutely and completely better than you.”

This was something I took for granted in my parents’ marriage: it was always obvious that each believed the other had settled. My mom admired my dad; my dad admired my mom. And so I set out to find a boy who was my superior, and, like my parents before me, lucked out: John Bowers, a constant inspiration to me to be more kind, patient, energetic, creative.

(Warning: mild Awakening of Miss Prim spoilers)

Like the Man in the Wing Chair, he’s brimming with bookish ideas and convictions and cheerful rants. One of the lines in which the Man in the Wing Chair most reminded me of my husband was this one:

“He wasn’t delightful in arguments, or in debates: he wouldn’t yield an inch concerning what he believed to be true, and he had no mercy with opponents when he saw they weren’t on his level.”

J is a formidable debater who argued several friends into the Catholic Church before succumbing himself. His conviction in debate can make me nervous — I spend a lot of energy monitoring people’s feelings and worry about hurting someone. But his bravery in arguing for the truth reminds me I could stand to gain in tenacity.

One piece reveals the author’s inspirations in crafting her protagonist, exclaiming: “How could one not want to read a novel in which the male protagonist is a composite of C.S. Lewis, John Senior and Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma!” While I’m not familiar with John Senior, except by name, biographies of C. S. Lewis have often reminded me of J: intellectually fleet and tough, slightly intimidating in intensity, boisterous with joy. And while Emma isn’t my favorite Austen novel, Mr. Knightley is definitely one of my favorite Austen heroes, one who’s absolutely and completely superior to Emma.

Another passage that struck me as familiar is this one, in which a friend characterizes the Man to Miss Prim:

“And there’s a third group, to which your Man in the Wing Chair belongs, whose aim is to escape from the dragon. They want to protect their children from the influences of the world, to return to the purity of old customs, recover the splendor of an ancient culture.”

Especially in this season, when J’s been able to take a lot of parental leave, I’ve seen all the big and small ways he seeks to protect our kids and “return to the purity of old customs” as he helps educate our kids, reads them books by the fire and leads them in Christmas carols on his violin.

We don’t know from the text if the Man in the Wing Chair sports a spectacular beard, like J, or if Miss Prim ends up with her Man in the Wing Chair. But today, on my Man in the Wing Chair’s birthday, I’m so glad I married mine.

 

The Man in the Wing Chair

 

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Christmas Eve Under the Arches 

(I wrote this for a newspaper contest when I was 14 and won, and now I’m making you read it, suckers, because I just rediscovered it in my basement excursions.)

Our family doesn’t have strict or ornate Christmas traditions. I’m not going to tell you about some fascinating cultured experience. After all, the Grimms are pretty much your average bunch of Americans. But one family ritual stands out above the rest in a quirky example of an unconventional Christmas.

That famed night sneaks up and we head for the Christmas vigil Mass as the stars prick the dark sky. After the Mass has ended and frazzled parents are chasing their giddy offspring in all directions, we have one destination that is set in stone: McDonald’s. Our car pulls up by the kiddie play place and the four of us emerge into the brisk night air, headed for the Golden Arches. Dressed in our Christmas finest, we slide into a vinyl seat and eat our meals from paper gags.

The Grimm clan has chosen Mickey D’s for Christmas Eve dinner ever since we moved to Tallahassee about seven years ago.

I think it was my father who suggested it as a joke, but the slightly insane tradition stuck. While many families are devouring beautifully prepared dinners in their dining rooms, we sit in a plastic booth and unwrap our Big Macs.

There are slight variations on the routine, because time alters traditions slowly. When we were younger, we insisted on playing on the slides and ball pits after popping off our little patent leather shoes.

Only forfeited when the weather was bitterly cold, we had the little plastic playground to ourselves and played to our hearts’ content. As tastes change, the meal we choose from the menu also changes. And alas! We kiddies are no longer devastated by not getting the toy we hoped for in our Happy Meals.

But many customs still withstand. Dad always teases us with the threat to take us back to church for Midnight Mass if we don’t behave. Mom always insists that we order whatever we want and top it off with big gooey sundaes, providing we clear our plates (so to speak). It’s quite an experience to munch calorie-laden food and shoot straw papers at your family while enjoying the fast-food restaurant that is so uncannily devoid of anyone else, much less a very cheery family like ourselves. The roads are always nearly deserted at 8 o’clock on Christmas Eve, and as the four of us coast home we absorb the vibrant holiday spirit bedecked on all the houses, and think of the morning to come.

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(Just a couple years after writing this contest entry, I met a boy I eventually married, a boy whose Christmas Eve birthday changed my traditions forever. These days, our family is divided between three states. My sister is vegetarian and doesn’t eat much McDonald’s; I have three children who already eat too much McDonald’s. But our family still manages to get ourselves to Mass, somehow, and we are still a very cheery family. Merry Christmas.)

Sisters

Today my little sister turns 30. Today our little family also continues the long, giddy, exhausting process of adjusting to growing a bit larger with my kids’ own little sister finally here in our arms. And both have me thinking about sisters.

I have lousy pregnancies and probably it’s slightly insane that I keep enduring pregnancy (always secretly hoping for different results, but as one friend said, I have a pretty damning data set at this point). But one of my big driving factors, one of my best sustaining thoughts, is how much I’ve loved going through life with my sister.


We are, it must be admitted, dramatically, often comically different people. (Gamely attending a kid’s birthday party with me recently, she was asked her main areas of freelancing, and with only a deep breath, admitted cooly to the inquiring Catholic moms, “Sex and relationships.”) When we were kids, we squabbled a lot, but couldn’t resist reconciling — who else were we going to play school or grocery store with? She’s the only other Floridian I know who basically can’t swim, and when I come across something on the internet I find bizarrely funny, she’s the first person I want to share it with.

Even when we fought mostly bitterly, it’s been such a gift to have someone who grew up the same way, who knows about our mother’s penchant for lipstick or the way our dad blared classic rock on Saturday mornings while he waxed the car. We are very different, but I admire so much about Beca. She can put anyone at ease around her, while I stumble through small talk. She mustered enough determination to survive the cesspool that is Brooklyn [my opinion, not hers], carve out a freelance career, and light out for Atlanta. She’s also an enthusiastic and indefatigable aunt to my kids, snagging them books and gummy bears and gobbling their bellies till they squeal with delight — and while I don’t require that you like my kids, I’m going to like you much better if you do.


I got through my pregnancy with Scout knowing I was giving Pippin the gift of a sibling, and I was buoyed through the long and waddling months carrying Roo, knowing that our house would someday have the laughter and arguments and comradeship of sisters: like the Dashwoods, or the Marches, or the Penderwicks, or the Grimm girls. Scout and Elizabeth are only a few months further apart than Beca and I are, and I can’t wait to see their friendship and sisterhood develop in the coming decades.


And I’m forever glad to know my little sister will be there to watch it, too.

30 After 30 (At 32)

Last year, I revisited the goals I’d made in 2015 for my life after 30. (You can read the original goals here.) I thought I’d do the same again this year.

Going well:

In addition to mostly keeping up with last year’s accomplishments, I can check off finishing Middlemarch and I’m on my way to learning how to cook red meat well, thanks to Beef Week and my overstuffed deep freeze. We also started to explore Charlottesville and Staunton, even in my waddlesome state. My flowers on the table rate probably hit about 60%. It’s a start.

That’s right. I read the hell out of you, Middlemarch.

Going meh:

  • Fitting in long walks at every opportunity. This is almost entirely pregnancy-related, though, and I’ve spent almost all of my 31st year pregnant, so I’m going to let it slide.
  • Plan another trip like the Dales Way. Well, I got knocked up. And I didn’t travel except once, I think, this pregnancy, and that was perfect. Maybe for 2018? We’d like to at least do the Virginia Creeper Trail. Or, you know, we could go big and go back to Inkland. That would be dreamy.
  • Celebrating the liturgical year. But! We got St. Nicholas Day and Michaelmas, All Saints and All Souls, so it’s not total despair city, even though we didn’t even dye Easter eggs till fall. (Darn you, morning sick Lent.)

 

Praying for the dead in a cemetery, as you do.

Most importantly, though, I think I came a long way in learning to be more gentle with myself and the people I love. I can thank a fairly crappy pregnancy for that, but I was forced to begin to learn how to prioritize, to let little things go, and to try to enjoy my family instead of striving for exhausting perfection when my body literally couldn’t give anymore. Pregnancy meant I had to let a lot of plans and goals go, but look what I ended up with: a snuggly newborn curled on my belly as I write this. What could be a better 32nd birthday gift?

 

2016 in 12 Pictures

While perusing the heart’s overflow I came across her post on 12 photos for 2016, and while we are well on our way to February, it’s my blog and I’m the boss of me and I wanted to do it anyway. After all, I don’t use this blog for general family/life updates much, so this post can be a glimpse into the big picture for our clan in 2016.

January

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Dear friends got married just after New Year’s and we traveled up to NYC to celebrate with them and Pippin’s godparents. Scout wore a silly bow.

February

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It snowed, both a blizzard in January when I was solo parenting (J was in Florida!!!) and again in February. Scout and I were over it.

March

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We celebrated Easter with friends. Scout was over this, too.

April

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I hesitate to include this shot among all the beauty and cheer — and I have happy pictures from April, of course — but this was a big part of 2016: both Pippin and I learning how to navigate his big feelings. Sometimes that required snacks, and sometimes that required humble apologies, and sometimes that required standing outside the car waiting for him to calm down so we could go home.

May

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My parents and I took the kids to Wakulla Springs, which is and ever has been one of my happy places.

June

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Scout turned one, my childhood best friend made her a beautiful smash cake, and, unlike her brother before her, she deigned to eat cake.

July

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The CURLS in summertime humidity. WHY DO I LOVE THEM SO MUCH?

August

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Like lunatic people, we drove eight hours each way with two small children to spend two nights with J’s brother and sister-in-law when they had a last minute chance to vacation in North Carolina.

September

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This boy. Oh, my heart. One thing I’ve noticed going back through the year’s pictures for this post is how much he grew in 2016. His sister’s developmental leaps were showier, but he turned into a real kid last year.

October 

A JMU student with a nice camera took this photo for us, not me, but it’s my favorite October snapshot. For Halloween, Scout was Little Red Riding Hood and Pippin was “just ketchup.”

November

My little drool monster love bean finally started walking after Halloween, when it really would have clarified her costume.

December

We celebrated Christmas in Tallahassee wishing we’d packed something other than boots.

2016 Updates and Last Words

Here are things I wanted to add to various posts from the year, but which don’t warrant their own new post. A sampling of PSes for you:

  1. Re these brownies — you can make them with 1/2 tsp of peppermint extract and mint chocolate chips and look, seasonal!
  2. Still running. Still dark, and now cold. Help.
  3. My first semester as a co op art teacher ended well, even though the students are merciless about my inability to draw (also to write on the marker board). I learned a lot from the “real” art teachers I helped in the other classes, and loved connecting church art history projects with books.
  4. More roasted garlic butter for Christmas, but next year, I’m tempted to try slow cooker bacon jam. I’m definitely not settled on a trademark food yet. (As I type this, the mail lady just dropped off J’s grandaddy and grandma’s famous homemade fudge. Man. Is fudge hard to make? That should totally be my thing.)
  5. Starting around Thanksgiving, Pippin finally started going gently into the good night of preschool drop off. It feels like a natural and expected part of our week now, but I’m still not quite ready to say we are doing formal preschool again next year.
  6. This winter, I’m pretty much back to my jeans uniform of auld lang syne, straddling that place where we are starting to wean and I’m about to gain ten pounds. (Eep.) But I’ve got a few beautiful skirts that work their way into rotation, and help on the days everything is too big or too small.
  7. The garden trundles on. This fall I’ve killed three mums, some hanging plant I never IDed but which is apparently susceptible to frost, the mini rose, which J mowed over, and the Solomon’s Seal, which I left out of the ground too long, I think. Still, I’ve started green onions and mint growing in the windowsill, so it’s not just a slaughterhouse around here. My ambition is small, but I have laid down black plastic to kill some grass and start a tiny herb and tomato garden next spring.
  8. I have developed mixed feelings about loveys after Scout lost her Oswald for 48 hours in the local Walmart and refused to accepted Imposter Oswald, who I spent $35 (!!!) to replace on eBay. Proceed with caution, folks.
  9. Naps are still mostly working here, although the other day I found Pippin hiding under the couch instead of in bed. Syncing their naps (or quiet times, eventually) may be the best thing I’ve done for my mama sanity — ever.
  10. We made space in our British costume drama rotation to watch the (mostly despicable) Gilmore Girls reboot, but didn’t you just love The Crown? (Check out Dominika’s thoughts over at her blog.) I’m behind on Poldark and hoping they release it to Amazon Prime soon so I can catch up…
  11. The curls rage on and are still one of my favorite things in the whole wide world. Don’t tell me her hair will straighten out as she grows up. It will ruin our friendship.
  12. Motherhood and the Redemption of the Body is still my most popular post of 2016. Peak early, I guess. (And befriend fellow literary nerds in high school so they can promote your posts a decade or so later.)
  13. I still feel weird about weaning, but I’m starting to move toward closing up shop when we are done with the holidays and travel. I worry a lot about how I’d handle nursing while pregnant, and so I’d like to send Scout out into the world before there is someone else to contend with.

 

I leave you with the glory of the curlz