A whole lotta nothin'

It’s hard to have patience and faith that something is going to turn out right, mostly because “right” to us doesn’t always mean “right” to the Man Upstairs. It’s easy to ask Him to show you the path He wants you to take, but it’s hard to wait for Him to show it to you. It’s easy to say “Give me a sign,” but it’s hard to not interpret every little thing you want to be a sign, as a sign.

For the past few months Chris’ job security has shifted and changed, and his prospects for work elsewhere have risen and fallen. And with every little shift, we second-guess ourselves a little bit. I think it’s just human nature.

“Wait, does this mean we should stay?” Sometimes followed the next day by “Huh, so it seems like we should go, then, right?”

Back and forth — stay or go? We debated, and waited. So less than two weeks ago when Chris flew up to Harrisburg, PA., for an interview to be the next editor of the Central Penn Business Journal, I wasn’t sure how to react when he called and told me it went “phenomenally well.” Because we had just sort of decided that his security at the newspaper had become much more solid, due to some unexpected departures. Maybe they were a sign, we’d said. Maybe the house isn’t selling for a reason.

So when he said they all but offered him the job on the spot, I didn't know what to think. The location was darn-near perfect — within an easy drive to family and our best friends, not to mention an hour and a half from Penn State. Such a move was something we’d talked about and daydreamed about for years. It’s a move that became increasingly important when we started a family. But still, staying put is easier, I thought. There’s no stress of selling the house. There’s no packing, saying goodbye to cherished friends here, no loading and unloading all our possessions. There’s no finding a new doctor, navigating a new area, joining a new church.

It’s just easier to stay, I thought.

And then, on the night he was flying home, I came across this old column I’d written more than 2 years ago. And it really hit home. Not necessarily in a “This is a sign!” kind of way, but definitely a nudge in the direction of what my focus needs to be. Family is everything.

Finding something in what seems like nothing
Published Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Holiday family get-togethers are excellent reminders of one simple fact: Life can’t be orchestrated.

This was made clear to me on Dec. 23, when my family had a portrait taken -- our first in more than 12 years.

There were eight adults and three children, the oldest of whom was 2, all crammed into a bathroom-sized studio for 45 minutes on various wooden blocks and stools. We tried our best to stare at the camera while three young women sternly directed us not to look at them as they danced and waved and poked at the babies to try to get the tykes to smile.

It didn’t work.

Turns out it’s impossible to get eight adults and three kids to look in the same direction and smile all at once.

I think the picture we ultimately selected was taken about 35 minutes into the ordeal, which means it was after one of the babies had thrown up but before my father had taken off his glasses to get rid of the glare from the flash. And judging by her blurry image and impish grin, my niece, Cora, appears to be darting out of the room (exceptionally smart for her age).

My sisters and mother were less than thrilled with the picture, but I think it sums up my family beautifully: We’re imperfect and a little weary, but here nonetheless (and somebody better watch Cora).

Apart from the pile of presents and digital memories, the importance of being “here” is what I took from last week’s Christmas trip to upstate New York. I left realizing how much I want to share the mundane moments of life with my loved ones. It’s not so much the birthday and anniversary celebrations that I pine for, it’s the “nothing moments” I really miss -- the afternoons spent playing games with my niece, or the evening car rides for an ice cream cone with my sister.

Because that’s when the good stuff happens. The unorchestrated stuff.

When the family convened in California in September 2004 for my sister’s wedding, it wasn’t the walk down the aisle that brought us all to tears -- it was the random moment two evenings before, when my then-year-old niece, Cora, suddenly toddled across the floor for the first time by herself.

I was lucky enough to be there for that, but there are so many other moments like it that I’ve only heard about secondhand.

Life passes in increments, but too often we only gather to celebrate the milestones. I want to see the increments. And I’m beginning to realize how many of them I’m missing.
A funny thing happens when your generation starts to have children. You begin to notice how much things really do change between your trips home. Not only do your siblings answer to the nicknames you gave them in childhood, but they now respond to other things, like “Mom” and “Maaa” and “Waaaaaaaaaah!”

Your nieces and nephews look like completely different people than the last time you saw them. Their personalities and vocabulary are being shaped before your absent eyes.
Luckily, my genius older sister knows just how I feel. Her Christmas gift to each of us: Web cams to hook up to our computers so that we can see each family member as we talk to them online.

My momentary distress over my loved ones believing I own only one outfit -- sweatpants and a tank top -- was quickly overtaken by the realization that I will now be able to see my niece and nephews change incrementally, even if I can’t hug them. And they will get to know my face along with my voice.

As we pack away the decorations and gather enough nerve to step on the scale, let us look back only fondly on the holidays just passed. If family was involved in your celebrations, there were probably missed flights and overcooked appetizers, sudden colds and fussy babies and packages that weren’t shipped on time.

But there were also smiles and hugs and good-natured teasing, family recipes shared and old memories relived. Everything that got in the way of our perfectly orchestrated plans happened for a reason. Each complication was placed there to make us slow down, relax our expectations and laugh at ourselves.

The best of life happens in seemingly unimportant moments anyway, before the food is placed on the table and long after it’s scraped from the dishes.

When I get that family portrait in the mail, I’ll no doubt laugh at the motley crew in the frame. It doesn’t matter that my brother-in-law is smiling at his son’s giggle, my mom is grinning because her family is, at long last, in the same room, and I’m cracking up at the snide remark my husband just made. It matters not that our smiles say something different. It only matters that we were there, sharing a million little “nothing” moments in that one flash.

Here’s to a new year of getting to share as many of them as you can with those you love.

We leave the Lowcountry for good on Sept. 19. It will be bittersweet, but I can’t wait to start sharing tons of “nothing” moments with those I love so much, and have been away from for so long. Pennsylvania, here we come!


Amy said...

can't wait to have you so close -- and share nothing moments with you. and you may just be passing through baltimore when I am in labor! :)

Robyn said...

Oh Amy, I've been gone for so long that it still seems like a dream to me to think of actually seeing your baby as a newborn, not meeting him/her for the first time when he/she is 2 years old! I really, really can't wait.

Maestra said...

I realized yesterday that we will now live closer to each other than we have in twenty years! And now after our long journeys we'll be close enough to do lunch. I can't wait for the boys to get to know each other!

Tara @ Feels like home said...

Oh, come on, Robyn. The guise of family is a nice one, but I know you're moving so that Kostyn will be closer to his birthday buddy.

:) Of course I'm kidding. I'm excited to have a Prego Pal so close, and I'm really happy for you to be so close to your family and friends and our Alma Mater. We're less than 90 minutes away, so we can drive up for lunch and pictures at the Nittany Lion Shrine, you know. It's not too far. :)

Grammy said...

God does answer our prayers, as always, in His time plan. We have waited a long, long time to have our "family" back in the North East once again. As He knows tho, we all needed the time to grow and change and appreciate all the blessings He has given to us.
New York, New Jersey and Pa., can't get any better than that.

Heather said...

I am SO SAD you're leaving, but SO HAPPY that you and Chris won't have to worry about the mercurial life of newspapers and not seeing family (I know what that does to a person). I'm so glad I got to know you, which I think happened that day when I feel flat on my face in the newsroom (have we stopped laughing since?).

I'm so torn, because I have really cherished our friendship. (I'll continue to do so, just long distance). You have always been the friend who offers the honest, sensible perspective to any of life's problems. I don't want you to go, but I know this move will be so good for you and your family.

I love ya, kid.

=) said...

I'm so happy for you! After living close to my niece and nephews for so long and having all those moments with them, it's what I miss most now that we are farther away. I want those moments for Murph and Turk with their family!

Ian Leslie said...

I was talking to Carolyn the other night and said "Who would have thought they'd be the ones leaving, and we're staying?"

Seems like this thing is too good to break up down here, but we're so happy for you guys, we know you need to be closer to family. You know we're going to miss you.

Robyn said...

Ian - I don't know if I'll cry harder hugging you and Carolyn goodbye, or watching the boys wave bye-bye to each other for the last time. Gonna be tough, all the way around. Good to know that, with both of your Yankee roots, we're sure to see you guys down the line.

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