I came to love learning while in college. Something about the discovery of a format that finally treated me as an adult, separating the pursuit of knowledge from authoritative control, freed me to fall in love with intellectual pursuit.  Said in another way, I discovered only fairly late in life that I am a big fat nerd.

I remember the overwhelming disappointment that I felt when I came to realize that I couldn’t even begin to tap into the enormous body of human ideas in a mere four years.  I was actually saddened by the need to choose just one area within which to specialize.  Although I chose science, I continued to pursue subject matter in the humanities and my search for interdisciplinary courses, guided by my tender adolescent conscience, found me often in the department of environmental studies.

I don’t know if this field  still exists but at the time it was a fledgling, piecemeal discipline.  Much of the subject matter focused on shedding light on the dire nature of the environment problems that modern life had produced: pollution, global warming, waning species diversity, etc.  It was a bleak picture indeed.

I found the classes to be frustratingly incomplete.  What on earth is the point of spending so much time to understand problems without spending any time on possible solutions? I remember the unspoken pleas from many of my fellow students: please tell me how to become a good steward of the earth without disappointing my parents, who happen to be paying a lot of money for this education!

I mistakenly believed myself to be more sophisticated.  I often flaunted my freshly minted cynicism in search of camaraderie with my professors. In hindsight, I was an arrogant butt-head.  I saw my scrappy upbringing as a blessing, one that might permit me to shed societal expectations more easily than my classmates.  I realized that I couldn’t easily “change the world” but damned if I would be conformed into the bourgeois consumer lifestyle that was condemning all of us to fry in our own petroleum.


Fast forward a decade and a half or so and here I sit, just another middle class, fossil-fuel junkie, tied to her relatively new computer.   Strangely, I feel good about my choice to become a full time mom, at least in the short term.  From the perspective of footprints, it’s a perfectly virtuous career choice, although I’m sure that I would have scoffed at the idea with full lung strength way back then.  Nevertheless, it is highly likely that I will only have one child and I am bold enough to hope that he will eventually grow older and far less needy.  I will need to engage myself in the world outside of this apartment once again.  There are still real choices to be made and I still believe that I can make them meaningful.

I feel my grown-up self projecting back to those classrooms of yesteryear and pleading to my professors: how on earth do I find something positive to do with myself that still allows me to contribute to my families finances?

What on earth should I do when I grow up?


Double, double toil and trouble

There was a time when I would wake up nearly every morning flush with crystal clear visions of my dreams.  So vivid were my memories that I could recount every detail.   I even became something of an amateur dream interpreter.

These days I only rarely have clear memories of dreamland.  It is more likely that, as was the case just this morning, I remember no more than the subject of my dream, often accompanied by a vague feeling.  For the first time in a very long time, last night I dreamed of my Aunt E.  Unfortunately, I can’t recall anything else about the dream. I spent all morning wondering why she decided to pay me a visit.

My Aunt E was my father’s only sister.  After years at war (WW2), during which time my father had been born, fatherless in infancy, my grandfather reunited with his family. My grandmother would give birth to my Aunt E shortly afterward.  Although family lore would have it that my grandfather never again fully had his wits about him, nobody doubted that his little girl was his pride and joy.

When I was young, they would often compare me to her.  The people from the small medieval town where my grandfather had grown up were all sure that they saw a striking resemblance between us.  The truth is that, beyond the dark eyes and hair and the small frame, we looked almost nothing alike.  My Aunt E was beautiful.  It was her excess of beauty, I had often suspected, that led to her tragic demise.  Pretty is practically a necessity but beautiful is a trait with the power to be dangerous.  She was a beauty, but she wasn’t very smart. So the story went.  I suspected it was because she just didn’t need to be.  From what I gathered, she had been on top of the world as a young woman.

My father’s family had very limited means.  My grandfather was a humble civil servant and my grandmother a housewife.  They had big dreams for their beautiful daughter.  They scrimped and saved to dress her in finery in the hopes of finding a wealthy husband.  They succeeded.  I remember my Uncle M as the epitome of style and sophistication.  He had movie star looks, fancy clothes and cars.  They had a fairy tale wedding.

Then my Aunt E became pregnant with her first child.  The details to follow were never completely revealed to me growing up but I know that, by chance, each of her pregnancies happened to coincide with those of my mother, living a continent away.  My mother has four children.  My Aunt E died childless.  At least one pregnancy went to term but her baby was born still.  I remember the horror in people’s faces as they spoke under their breath of the time that she would carry her dead child for weeks before actually giving birth to him.

At some point my Uncle M would begin taking very long “business trips”.  Only later did it come out that he had created a separate life with another woman.  He had three children.  My Aunt E’s health deteriorated quickly. In her mid-30’s she would have a stroke that left her limping.  In her late 30’s she had another that took away her speech.  She spent the last years of her life in a home where nearly all of the patients were decades older.  She died of kidney failure not long after her 40th birthday.

Perspective is a powerful thing.  As a feminist teenager I believed that her decline served as a cautionary tale on the dangers of living by beauty alone.  She had no hobbies, no interests, no chance of living independently.  I now believe that she died of grief.  I am so bold as to say it out loud. Her losses killed her. She might have survived being abandoned by her husband had she had her precious children with her.   Her husband would have stayed had she given him children. The malicious tongues clicked.

When I called my parents to tell them that I had lost my first pregnancy the comparisons began anew.  They would never speak of their fears to me but I heard them.  Just like her Aunt E.  When I would call yet again, the day that I was admitted to the hospital after twin B died, they no longer had any doubts.  The talk was not the sort related to Mendelian genetics but rather something far more sinister.  It was a curse, passed down from one generation to the next.  They despaired not only for the grandchildren that they would never know but for their poor daughter.  It was clear that I was doomed. When my son g was born, it was, they still repeat often, a miracle.  I had broken the curse.

In my mind, I yell out in protest.  There is this organ. It’s called a placenta…… We were unlucky.

Yet this morning as I brushed my teeth, some part of my dream still fresh, I saw something.  I can’t say for sure but it may have been a very subtle resemblance to her.  My ill fated Aunt E.