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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Farm (Children Mentioned)

Updated at the bottom:

homage to Wallace Stevens

I am six years old, standing in the pumpkin fields on a school field trip. I ask the teacher if there's a bathroom and she says, "not out here." Thus begins my penchant for asking a question the wrong way and not being able to ask it again without looking like an idiot. I pee in my pants in the pumpkin field. I tell all the other kids that I sat down in the field in some water. They believe me, but I ride home on the bus humiliated and lock myself in the classroom bathroom when we return to school.

I am around ten. We've returned many times since that field trip to this particular farm. On this day, my family is picking pumpkins again for Halloween. I will get to carve them with my father. In my heart, I really really really want a tiny pumpkin. But I know my sister will point out that a tiny pumpkin cannot be carved and I am an idiot for wasting my pumpkin choice on a tiny pumpkin. So I choose one that is bigger than I really want just so I can be like her and maybe we can be pumpkin twins when it comes to carving them that night.

I just turned twenty and I am at the farm with the boy I love. We are picking vegetables for a dinner party that we are throwing for all of his friends. I like being with this group of boys because they make me feel as if I am Wendy from Peter Pan and they are the Lost Boys. Everything I do is rewarded with such awe and affection. As the car bumps over the dirt road, I am rocked into a feeling of contentment.

I am at the farm again, now twenty-one. Twenty was a terrible year. An extremely painful and difficult year and the source of most of the pain is sitting next to me in the car--the boy from the summer before. We are bumping along the dirt road again and this time the rear view mirror falls off from its perch and cracks. We stop the car when we get to the fields and I pick up the mirror and say, "we fuck up everything."

My cousin and I meet a man in a small town near West Virginia. He owns a canoe, we want a canoe. We work out a deal where we pay him $15 each time we go out there and use his canoe. He tells us one day as he drives us 22 miles up river that his dream is to open his own canoe-rental-and-bait shop. We continue to meet him throughout the summer, stopping off at the farm to grab vegetables and fruit for lunch--pickling cucumbers, carrots that we peel with my swiss arm knife, nectarines. The next summer, we call him in June to let him know that we're coming out that weekend. He tells us proudly that he'll have to charge us $30 for a two hour ride because he now owns his own canoe-rental-and-bait shop. His gain is our loss. We only go a few times that summer and I miss being on the water with my cousin.

I am dating Josh and I bring him to the farm because it is one of my favourite places in the world. The trees bend over the road as you drive onto the farm--a mile of shaded road through a small forest. I wish we could get married on that road. Each time we visit the farm, I picture myself walking down that road in a long white dress.

I cannot get pregnant. We have our first appointment with the RE during strawberry season. Back in college, I tried to make jam and I ended up ruining a pot and a spoon in the process. I have this strong need to right all my past failures. We end up pickings pounds and pounds of strawberries and turn them all into preserves. I don't even particularly like strawberry jam, but I want to do something right when everything feels so wrong.

I take some students to the farm that fall for a field trip. All through the lecture, the only thing I can think about is that class trip to the pumpkin patch in first grade when I peed in my pants. All through the ride to the field, the only thing I can think about is how I worry that I'll never have a child. All through the time in the field, I think about how I probably shouldn't be lifting heavy pumpkins while on stims. But how the hell do I explain why I'm not participating to a bunch of eighth graders?

I am finally pregnant and know that I am about to be put on modified bed rest. I go to the field to pick some strawberries not because I particularly want strawberries but because I am emotional and it is a place where I am happy. It is difficult to bend over and I start gasping from the exertion as well as the contractions. The man picking in the row next to me smiles and says, "I know; I'm out of breath too. We really need to get to a gym."

The twins are born in the middle of the summer. They are in the NICU until late August. We bring them home on heart monitors and strict instructions not to take them into crowds that first year. No trips to the grocery store, no strolls around the mall. But we bring them to the farm on a warm day because we reason that it's outdoors. We unplug the heart monitors for the pictures because I am extremely sensitive about its presence in all of their early pictures even though I don't really know why. We hold the babies next to pumpkins in the field. I introduce them to the farm.

We bring the twins back in the spring to pick peas. We have photos of ourselves sitting next to neat rows of English peas, the babies facing outward in Baby Bjorns. I bring them home and shell them and steam them and puree them. The twins love these peas and it somehow makes up slightly for the fact that I couldn't breastfeed them. What could be more natural than hand-picking and steaming your own English peas?

The twins are in running mode. They enjoy running for the sake of running. They like to run in two different directions. We try bringing them with us when we go to pick blueberries. They want to be held so we pick one-handed. They want to run up and down the aisles so we take turns picking and watching them. They discover hayrides and are thrilled to ride on a continual loop through the farm. I can't get anything accomplished, but they're so happy to be on the tractor bed that it doesn't really matter.

They are now almost three. I am in the mood for blueberry muffins. We wake up in the morning and I ask them if they want to go to the farm. We haven't been yet this summer. We drive out to the farm and we pass a house that we've always called "Mommy's Dream House." It's a tiny farm house with a lake on the property. They have been talking about this house all winter. We ride the tractor out to the field and when we get to the blueberry bushes, I tell the kids to run up and down the row while I pick. After a minute of standing there watching me, my son says, "I want to help." I'm flustered and say, "this is really hard to explain and you need to know the right ones to pick and..." I pick up a branch and say, "you only want to pick the really blue ones. You want to leave the baby ones alone." My son plucks off the dark ones and waves his hand at the others, "I leave them alone." The two of them crawl and pluck and jostle the plants, searching down the berries that I never would have found if I was picking alone. They gently put them in the bucket and my daughter takes care to pluck out any small stem or leaf that gets mixed in with the fruit. We celebrate their hard work with a tractor ride around the farm.

They are both sitting on my lap, chirping on about the size of the tractor wheels and blueberries and the port-a-potty I used before we hit the fields (if nothing else, the farm has an uncanny way of reminding me to use the bathroom before I'm stuck in the fields). I bend my head over theirs and say into their ears: "I never thought you'd be here. You are two of my favourite people and this is my favourite place. And I've always wanted to bring you here."

"You waited a long time for me!" my son says proudly as if his delay were a good thing.

I don't know. Maybe it was.

Thank you to everyone who has been writing such kind words about this piece. I wrote it a few weeks ago and first submitted it to Washingtonian Magazine, but they said they didn't have a slot for a piece of this length. So I posted it here because it meant a lot to me. But I'm happy to offer up reprint rights if you feel like emailing Washingtonian and telling them that they missed out on something great. And the world should be hearing about infertility not from the sensational stories, but the human emotions involved in the hard choices of lifting pumpkins when you're on stims so you don't have to admit to your problem. Also feel free to badger This American Life, Washington Post, et al... Hell, it can't hurt to beg for a freelance infertility writing campaign, can it? Present the other side--the real side--rather than the stories about sextuplets from Clomid and adoption scams.


Anonymous said...

No, I'm not crying. Um, it's the hormones. Yeah, that's it. I can't wait to share my favorite places!

A gorgeous piece of art, as always, Mel. Simply gorgeous.

Jess said...

You know, I think it's beautiful that you are open with your kids about waiting for them. My mom and dad tried 11 years (turned out Mom had endo pretty bad and never had symptoms) to have me and I was ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS proud that I was so wanted. My parents' infertility was something I took pride wasn't easy for them, but look...they wanted me SO BADLY that they kept going.

It's strange (well, ok, genetically speaking not so strange) that I found myself in the same boat, just unwilling to let the journey last 11 years. I plan on telling my kids how much we wanted them. How we really thought they might not be with us. How we worried they might not be with us. How much we love that they ARE with us.

I have a place like your farm. We go to Hilton Head every year with Travis' parents and have been going there almost as long as we've dated. I love the Old South feel. I have many happy memories there, but I also have memories of trying to get pregnant. Memories of last year's trip where I cried in the bathtub after a failed IVF and had to go to the local hospital for a blood HCG. And that same trip, standing by the ocean deciding that we would adopt.

This year, though, is the best of the years yet, though probably not the best to come. We're headed for HH on Saturday, but with our daughter in the carseat and our son in my belly. One year. It's crazy, isn't it?

You know...if we had gotten pregnant easily like every other 20 year old I know...if we had gotten pregnant with IUI, with IUI/meds, with that first IVF or the FET....if any of it had happened, we wouldn't have Ava. We wouldn't have taken that leap.

It's hard to say it was worth it...we would have been happy with pregnancies and having never adopted, that's the truth. People are happy like that, of course they are. But it's just as hard to say it's NOT worth it...because how can Ava not be worth it? Now we can't imagine that it wouldn't have gone this way.

Jess said...

Wow, long response.


electriclady said...

So beautiful, Mel. Thanks for sharing.

Serenity said...

This is a gorgeous post, Mel.

Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful post, Mel. Thanks for sharing these glimpses into your life.

Caro said...

That was beautiful, I have tears in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Crying here, too. Beautiful.

Somewhat Ordinary said...

This is beautiful! It actually makes me wonder why I live on a 6 mile road with at least 15 different farms and never visit any of them? I guess they are all private family farms, but it still makes me want to drop by and make some sort of ritual out of it.

Lori Lavender Luz said...

I can actually see in my mind everything you're talking about.

This post is going on my Shared Reader. Just excellent.

Anonymous said...

beautiful. made me cry too.

andrea_jennine said...

What a lovely story.

E. Phantzi said...

Oh my god, this made me cry. You write beautifully and if you don't put this post on the creme de la creme list for 2007 you'll have a riot on your hands!

Samantha said...

It's wonderful that you have this place to view stages of your life from, and you can now share it with your children. Hopefully they won't have the bathroom issue :)

Beautiful post, as usual.

SarahSews said...

That is beautiful Mel. I'm crying at my desk. Don't we all know that feeling of "will I ever share this with my children?"

Natalie said...

Awww, that makes me teary! They're too cute, and a perfect fit to a lifelong story:-)

beagle said...

This is just beautiful Mel.
Thanks for sharing your farm with us.

Julie & Lisa said...

Amazing. I know where I'm taking the kids very soon...

merseydotes said...

Mel, that is a really wonderful piece of writing. It made my evening.

K said...

Yep, tears, too.

I can so see you writing a children's book about this.

You're so talented!

Bea said...

Yep, I cried too. It sounds like a wonderful place, and it's great to have such a place to tie all those experiences together.


Kristen said...

I love this piece. The Washingtonian really did miss out. It is so relatable and simply precious. I could picture myself in your farm and where I am in my journey, and what possibly lies ahead for me.

You are quite talented and thank you so much for sharing this.

TeamWinks said...

Simply and beautifully stated. I don't have a special place, but plenty of special traditions. It's a shame they didn't publish this!

Unknown said...

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing, Mel.

Natalie said...

Beautiful. I have tears in my eyes.

Michael Evans said...

Loved the whole thing, but my favorite was XIII. Great job!

Shelby said...

Great story Mel. Brought back a lot of memories for me. One of the first things we did when we moved to MD was to find a place where we could go apple/strawberry picking. It's one of those things that just makes me feel like I'm home. Though I don't recall going before grad school, I'm so glad I started going to farms then. It's such a wonderful tradition. I think we may go this weekend!

megan said...

i'm a weepy mess now, Mel! thanks so much for posting this. it's just beautiful. i'll definitely be hounding the Washingtonian and this American Life. thank you so much.

PCOSMama said...

You write beautifully Mel! Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories with us.

nancy said...

This is beautiful. Simple. Thoughtful. Full of love. Beautiful. Reminds me of my own family how I'm now taking my girls to do thing I did growing up. I have to think of my own "13 ways" if you don't mind.

Searching said...

I think this is beautiful and heartfelt.

Heather said...

Excellent story! Definately should be published, other than your blog. Thank you for sharing

Duffy said...

wow. I am stunned. both by your artful and beautiful writing and my longing for moments like these.

I grew up all over the country and over seas as well (Air force brat) - I worry some times that I won't have those favorite places, those touchstones to bring my children to.

Thank you for sharing. This definitely needs to be published!

luna said...

such a gorgeous post. I remember seeing it then not being able to find it again... I can see each of these vignettes in my mind's eye. thanks for sharing. hope it was/will be published eventually!

Pale said...

Damn, Mel, that was good. I missed that one last year ... The date is actually my 14t wedding anniversary. Yep, the Washingtonian missed out. I have the urge to art direct the magazine piece ... I picure myself looking for the images ... good writing does that to me.


PS Thanks for all the work on the extravaganza.

Magpie said...

Beautiful post.