11 January 2012

2011 in review, Part II

This is Part II of the 2011 meme/questionnaire. Part I here. I got a little verbose yesterday so broke the thing up into two sections.


13. What did you get really excited about?

Our new house/home town and exploring Leuven (back to the land of amazing beer! and fries and waffles and mussels). My new iPad (for the story, see below, question 22). Finally finishing the diss, of course. Getting pregnant! Getting Gabriel to sleep through the night! Finally getting Gabriel into daycare! A number of memorable meals at great restaurants, including a fish restaurant (Beluga) here in Leuven that serves only a chef's tasting menu based on the day's catch, Casa Calvet, where we went for our anniversary dinner in July, a PhD celebratory meal at Harvest in Cambridge with my family, and several great meals throughout the year at Restaurant Tallent in Bloomington. Our vacation in Cape Cod with my family, and an internetless week on the Costa Brava with just me and the Mister and the babe.

14. What song will always remind you of 2011?

This question has stumped me. I guess I don't have a theme song kind of life, although that's something to aspire to. Finding and listening to new music has kind of been on the back burner compared to other things. Plus, for the first time in a long time I haven't been part of a choir (I miss it so!), which usually forms the soundtrack to my days.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

I can't remember precisely how happy I was at the beginning of 2011 (and don't have any record of it in my blog), but I was probably pretty happy, having completed a great semester of teaching literature for the first time, enjoying Bloomington, and enjoying my almost-one-year-old--and because my normal state of being is happy. Although I'm reeeealllly very happy now, so I'll go with happier.

I'm fatter, due to the little baked-potato-sized person taking up room in my midsection (and who is also directing my hips and thighs and boobs and face to take on a bit more padding). Right now I'm wearing jeans that I bought a few months postpartum last time, thinking that my weight would go down no further. I was wrong, thankfully, since I lost so much weight while breastfeeding that I actually went down a pants size from before the pregnancy. So the jeans got stored. Turns out they're perfect for four months pregnant! When I left Leuven in early December they still hung on me and now that we're back I'm happy to see that they fit and to have another pair of pants to add to my scant number of maternity-appropriate bottoms.

Richer, since the Mister has an actual full-time, year-round job that doesn't rely on us cobbling together semesters' worth of teaching salaries.

16. What do you wish you'd done more of?

More poetry writing, more getting down on the floor and playing with Gabriel instead of fiddling around on the computer, more singing, more baking, more making out with the Mister.

17. What do you wish you'd done less of?

As usual, less worrying, less procrastination, less assuming that the Mister can read my mind (in my defense, a lot of the time he can) or expecting praise over stuff that's just part of my job as a wife or mom or, you know, citizen of humanity.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

An odd, sad day this year. Iaia died in the afternoon, Spanish time, so by 9am we were skyping with the family just after she passed. The rest of the family went to church, taking Gabriel with them, and M and I sat in the quiet at my sister's house and watched a few snowflakes fall, while we cried and processed what had happened. I fell asleep. When they got home, we all sat around and talked while the kids took naps, then went to my brother's house and ate leftovers.

19. What was your favorite TV program?

Most nights, M and I watch one episode of a TV show online or (more rarely) on DVD. This year, we watched Big Love, which we liked pretty well although the last few seasons got kind of annoying (and we didn't like how it ended). For his birthday, I gave the Mister the Derek Jacobi BBC miniseries I, Claudius, which we watched and enjoyed greatly for its crazy 1980s vision of ancient Rome. We've been devoted followers of The Good Wife, and we've lately discovered Downton Abbey, which I rather adore. We're thinking of trying Boardwalk Empire or Homeland next. Any recommendations?

20. What were your favorite books of the year?

I always wish that I'd kept a list of the novels I read over the year, so maybe this year I'll actually do it. It's hard to remember them all, so this list is likely to be skewed to more recent reads. One book that still stands out is David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which took a while to get into but left me bereft when it was over, because I so wanted to stay in that world of 18th-century Japan as lived by a Dutchman. I really liked Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and after the Mister read it, I read Freedom (Jonathan Franzen) and liked it better than The Corrections. Oh dear, I know I'm forgetting books. Let's see... A set of essays called The Art of Travel by Alain de Bottom. I read The Hunger Games trilogy the week Gabriel and I arrived in Belgium, the house empty of any furniture except an air mattress and a pack'n'play, so those books will always remind me of that time (I'm kind of looking forward to the movie(s) because they'll lend themselves so well to that medium). I think I read Room this year (maybe last, though?), and I adored it for many reasons--the gripping plot, the voice of the child, the portrait of the mother-child relationship. I still think about it often. Also might have been 2010, but I loved Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone. Oh I know: another favorite definitely from this year was Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. It wasn't perfect, but the whole invented jungle world/tribe was pretty engrossing.

21. What were your favorite films of the year?

Harder to say. Unlike book-reading, which is only partially limited by this whole thing called being a parent, movie-watching is severely limited by it. We went to the theater only a handful of times, usually to see whichever least-objectionable movie happened to be playing the night we had child care. The rest of the movies I see in a year are mostly on plane trips or when at my parents'. Ones that stand out, although I hesitate to call them favorites...We saw Carnage in the theater in Barcelona. We saw The Descendants in the theater in Boston. (Thank you, grandparent babysitters!) I saw Another Earth on the plane. One weekend we rented Beginners on iTunes, which I liked but the Mister didn't. Of Rotten Tomato's list of 2011's top 100 movies, I saw only four. We've been wanting to see The Ides of March for a while, and hopefully will find a time to rent it soon.

22. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 33 this year, on Mother's Day. In retrospect, I can laugh about it but that day I was hoping for something extra special because of the conjunction and kind of got (childishly, unreasonably) crabby when it was super low key. We spent most of the day attending the bris of a friend's new baby, and M. didn't realize that the whole Mother's Day thing was so important to me, and he really didn't have time to prepare anything because he was flat-out busy at the end of the semester and was about to leave for Belgium and his new job. I do remember how beautifully sunny it was that day, though, and how nice it was to play with Gabriel in a park while M. took pictures. I made a chocolate cake.

But then! A couple of weeks later, while I was in Boston with my family, we had a small celebration for the May birthdays, and M. arranged for his gift of an iPad to be delivered. I was so bowled over/touched/surprised/excited/humbled that I started to cry when I unwrapped it, realized what it was, and, a few beats later, realized who it was from. I had not an iota of an idea that M. was planning to give me an iPad and hadn't even been angling for it (although of course I was secretly dying for one of my own). People, I don't think I've cried over a gift since I was six and got a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas. I guess, to put it in SAT terms, Cabbage Patch Doll : 6-year-old :: iPad : 33-year-old. But it wasn't just the gift itself--it was M's thoughtfulness, and his way of surprising me yet again, with yet another attentive gesture at a time when we were going through a big change in our lives (and yes, more than making up for that birthday/Mother's Day). I love the iPad to pieces. I've read so many books on that thing, and adore the experience of reading magazines on it, and finding recipes, and all around exploring different apps. Of course, Gabriel thinks it's his, and we have to keep it hidden most of the time he's awake, but that's another story for another blog entry.

23. What one thing could have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

You know, I can't think of a thing! I believe that's good. One thing that I really regret is not documenting Gabriel's first year by creating a photo book, or a video montage, or even keeping up a baby book, or writing enough in this blog. The one-year photo book has been on my to-do list since he turned one and is still not done. Argh. I worry that I will forget the many thousands of details of his incredibleness and sweetness as he's changed each month of his life.

24. Whose behavior merited celebration?

My mom, who came to the rescue so many times. She flew to Bloomington on a moment's notice when I hurt my knee (oh, I guess that was fall 2010--another unblogged story, in which I badly twisted my knee on a plane when we flew to Barcelona and proceeded to be on crutches for several weeks both in Barcelona and upon our return to Bloomington, no picking up baby allowed!) and she and dad came for Gabriel's birthday. Then, she deserves a medal in itself for being there in May to help me pack up the apartment, put on a yard sale, and drive out to Boston with me and an antsy kid in a car stuffed to the gills while M. was already in Belgium. Then, she came for a visit this fall in which she helped us get Gabriel to sleep through the night (!), and watched him while I furiously edited the thesis. And, I should note, she cooked SO MANY great meals for us throughout the year. Then, THEN (!), she (and my dad, who deserves his fair share of amazing-grandpa accolades too) took care of Gabriel for a week while I defended my thesis in Bloomington. She has already booked her tickets to be here and help watch Gabriel when this next baby is born. All of this, I should say, she does while being SO respectful of what M. and I want for Gabriel. She has raised FIVE kids, so you'd think she would bring up that small detail more often, and in fact she totally would get a pass for insisting on her experience and doing things her own way. Instead, she always defers to what we want and quietly offers her help and (invaluable) opinions when we ask. She knows just the right balance between offering ideas and setting back and letting us fumble around and learn parenting by doing--which is really the only way you can learn. Man, she's amazing.

And then there's the Mister. I could never say enough about how supportive he is, how much he does to make our little family a safe and secure one, how he does more than his share of housework, uncomplainingly. He treats me like a queen and pushes me when I need it. We're complementary in so many ways that I feel so lucky we found each other (complementary both in the sense of similarities and in the sense of making up for one another's weaknesses: for instance, he's better at long-term planning and I'm better at short-term planning; he's better at big-picture cleaning and I'm better at small-scale organizing; he knows more about politics and history and I know more about literature and science; he has an amazing memory for dates, but I remember where we keep things...and so on!). He's currently working a full time job AND writing his dissertation. And not least of all, he is such a fantastic dad--I just love watching him with Gabriel and seeing how much Gabriel adores his Dada.

And finally, Gabriel has been a total sweetheart. Apart from the whole sleeping challenge, he is such a good-natured, easygoing child, and I love hanging out with him. When he gives me a kiss and says, "I lub oo," I swoon every time. My darling, my big boy.

25. What kept you sane?

The Mister and our rascally, endearing, wide-eyed, charmer of a child. His piping little voice. Friends and family. Faith in God's provisions for our life. Good books, good food (the cooking and the eating of it), and good hard work.

26. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.

I blogged about this one before, but it's about letting go...not worrying so much because most of the time the things you worry about are not the things you end up struggling with. And when you do struggle, you make it, somehow, with the help of God and family and friends. As I say in that post, "You'll get what you get and you'll deal with it when you do."

Relatedly, motherhood has taught me that "this too shall pass"... Stages that are so frustrating go by more quickly than you imagine. When you're in the trenches, things seem to drag on forever but all too quickly you look back and realize that it was just a blip in the bigger picture.

The inverse is true, too. I'm sometimes sad to see how quickly Gabriel passes through stages of utter adorability...all too soon he no longer says "nigh nigh" in that new-speaker voice he had, and he says "moo" now instead of "moh," and he runs instead of toddles, and he lost his baby curls when he got his first haircut and so on and so forth. But then! There are things to look forward to: him talking in full sentences and telling me the wonderments in his head, teaching him to read, the wonders of school and a million things to learn, and it goes on from there. Every stage has its new frustrations and delights, and I suppose that will continue long into the future (until adolescence, maybe?!). There's a lot to look forward to, not just from Gabriel, but from our lives together. 2012 is just the first step, and I can't wait to see what it brings.

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