And This Should Be Done While Taking A Vigorous Walk

posted December 8, 2004

Thanksgiving was full of thanks and full of giving. In my cynical past, I sometimes thought of Thanksgiving as a cruel prelude to The Festival Of Anxiety Where You Spend Money You Don’t Have Trying To Please The People In Your Life With Whom You Have the Most Complicated And Loaded Relationships, AKA Christmas. Thanksgiving, in my mind, was Christmas Lite. The food wasn’t as good (remember I am not a turkey fan) and the pressure wasn’t as high. The ground was still bare and the pumpkins might still be rotting on the porch.

Let me tell you about Thanksgiving this year. Collect, if you will, in your mind, a family where the term “taking a nap” is as titillating and as shameful as some sexual acts. Where high achievements go hand in hand with sainthood and where conversation routinely is taken to include only discussion of Things That Matter: the state of the world-physical, political, ecological, artistic– the state of your soul. MAYBE the Red Sox. And this should be done while taking a vigorous walk.

We are: a top Washington DC lawyer, two kick ass US history teachers, two nationally ranked tennis players, three professional folk rock musicians, a real estate mogul cum internet savant, a reporter for the nation’s number one celebrity magazine. And that’s just the under five crowd. (I’m not counting Dave’s parents who are even MORE impressive They showed up later in the weekend, leaving at 2am when they heard their future grandchild was on the way, arrived at the hospital at 5:15 and stayed until 9:30am. They had to go back to NYC because Dave’s mother was staring in a play, and she had a matinee at 2pm.)

We get up and go. We Do it Now. We succeed. We are productive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love these people more than I love any people on earth, and I believe I would even if I weren’t related to them. They are funny, intense, sincere, interesting folk. They have huge warm hearts. Once, a friend told me, right after meeting my parents, “Oh, Nerissa, they are like gods! They shimmer with gold!” I am so proud to be a member of my family. I look forward to visits and feel sad when they’re over. I call them up, instant message with them, tell them of my triumphs and woes. They listen and commiserate, encourage and cheerlead. In short, I am deeply blessed and did not deserve any of this.

But there is one thing that does not come naturally to Nieldses (nor to some of their significant others). We do not feel exactly comfortable with unscheduled unplanned time. We like to Know. We like the Plan. Especially if it’s MY plan, and not, say, my mother’s plan. So vacations of yore were spent hiking all forty six of the Adirondacks high peaks, driving all over Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland to see AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE in two weeks, playing tennis, golf, etc.

As I said in an earlier post, I have never hosted Thanksgiving. The morning came, and Tom and I stuffed the turkey (a small, free range one) and roasted two ducks, cut up purple potatoes, made a coffee chocolate cheesecake, steamed some green beans with almonds. At one point, I looked at my watch and said, “It’s time to grieve my losses,” and pulled out a journal from three years ago when I was single on Thanksgiving. The desert years. Tom had them too, those years when you can be smack dab in the middle of your family and feel a million miles away. I showed him a picture of me, a group photo, and I am indeed smack dab in the center, with a big grin on my face, because God forbid I appear unhappy about the fact that my eleven year marriage was over and I was single. So we took a break and I cried, and man, did that feel good.

My family began to arrive: my sister Abigail with her husband Mark and the twins, just seven months old. My beautiful parents. My pregnant sister Katryna and Skinny Dave (he gave up Nasty Orange Circus Peanuts). Amazing Amelia who is no longer afraid of Cody the No Longer Barking Dog (we trained him! Ask me how!) We gathered the food, we lit some candles even though it was broad daylight. We read a couple of Bible passages, one from Micah: “For what does God ask of us but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God?” and Matthew: “Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not nor do they spin, yet even Solomon was not arrayed as one of these.” We went around the table and said what we were thankful for, what we were sad about and what we wished for the world. We ate and laughed and cried and loved each other.

Then the most amazing thing happened. We did nothing for about two days. We sat around and held babies and chatted took digital photos of each other and played unscheduled silly games, like Attaturk and Balderdash. We went to see Ben Demerath and Northern Lights at the Iron Horse. We went for walks in the park and to the playground at the YMCA. We hung out. Pre-scheduled C-Sections aside, one cannot rush a baby. Katryna sat among us like a queen, gently helping Amelia into her Princess shoes (pink with sparkles), pontificating on the merits of cranberry sauce with horseradish, and kicking ass in Attaturk. Occasionally she’d have a contraction and we’d get all excited, but Wednesday, Thursday and Friday all came and went with no visit to the hospital. We were at the mercy of the smallest and least productive us of all, and we were enjoying that.

There is a term a writer in one of my workshops named Elizabeth taught me: Fikka. It’s a Swedish word meaning “to have coffee and pastry and conversation.” My aunt Elizabeth, the potter from upstate NY has a similar term called “Argy Bargy.” That’s what we got to do over Thanksgiving weekend. We fikka’d. We argy bargied. And then at 5 am on Saturday morning, Tom and I got a call from Dave: “Come meet someone,” he said. We threw on our clothes and ran across the street to meet William John Chalfant, infant extraordinaire, sure to be great and accomplished, even if all he ever does is sit around and fikka.

Not that there weren’t accomplishments during the weekend. Well, of course, Katryna had a pretty serious accomplishment, and you might say that William, having been born, accomplished something somewhat significant. Also, seven month old Emmett crawled his first steps (or are they “kneps?”) and Abigail won the Balderdash tournament. (At least I think Abigail won. All I know is that I didn’t.)

At church the Sunday before, Stephen preached about the passage in Mark where Jesus gets told during one of his big Pow Wows where he’s preaching and healing and making miraculous things happen, that his mother and brothers are waiting to see him.

(Mark 3:33-35.) “And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.’”

The sermon was about families of choice and is a comforting theme this time of year. Even Jesus had family problems-they thought he was crazy for much of his life and he wasn’t able to perform miracles in his home town because of their unbelief. Like I said earlier, I realize how rare and remarkable and wonderful it is to have a family whom I believe in. I’m not wise enough to presume they are doing the will of God, but I do know they are doing the best they can, that they make me laugh, that they hold me when I cry and that they are all continuing to grow. And for all this, and so much more, I continue to be thankful.

The Comments

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  1. Congrats, Nerissa! You certainly have a lot to be thankful for this year! In addition to all of my blessings, I am thankful that I am going to be in your workshop this January!

  2. Wow… what a wonderful Blog!

    I have to ask… how did you encourage Cody to become The No Longer Barking Dog?

    I have a 92lb hephalump of a furry cuddlebeast, and he is as smart as a whip. He can learn anything I can figure out how to teach him, and yet, somehow, this lesson is still beyond me. He used to know the word “whisper”, which meant a light wuff rather than a loud, deep bark, but that was more of a ‘trick’ than a ‘skill’. Regardless, I am scrambling to re-teach that, as the barking is quick to get on my father’s nerves. (Staying in the family home somtimes means doing your best not to ruffle the household environment and family routines.)

    So- please enlighten me! What worked with Cody?



  3. Nerissa! Congratulations to the Nieldses with the new little arrival! Your family sounds like mine. Isn’t unplanned time wonderful?

    I love your blogs ever so much!

  4. I’m glad to read that your Thanksgiving fretting was for naught, and that you had a good time.

    Congratulations on being a new Auntie.


  5. Nerissa,
    Aside from the beautiful post and the fact that you make this buddhist jew want to be a christian because you make it so right and beautiful when you speak of it- but – what I really have to say is Yes, how did you stop Cody’s barking!
    I have the most perfect well-behaved calm medium-sized mutt except that he cannot control his spontaneous, BIG SCARY barking!
    was it the citronella spray collar?

  6. Nerissa, I highly enjoyed reading about your wonderful thanksgiving…the entire post was beautiful, and most especially this sentence:

    “We were at the mercy of the smallest and least productive us of all, and we were enjoying that.”

    It brought a happy tear to my eye 🙂

    Congratulations on being an Auntie (again) 🙂

    ~ April

  7. Here’s how we learned how to keep Cody from barking so egregiously. First, I found out that mother wolves keep their pups from barking (and thereby drawing unwanted attention to the pack) by holding the pup’s muzzle closed with her own mouth and growling very softly. So Step One: when Cody barked, we’d gently close his muzzle, lean in and growl “Noooooo” very softly. That worked for about five seconds. Then he started barking again. So we moved on to the Evil Tin Can. This can is full of coins or other heavy metal objects and has a lid. When Cody barked, we said “No!” firmly and shook the tin can once or twice. Magically, he stopped. It still works, and it’s been a month. We have tin cans all over the downstairs, and just the sight of one of us lifting it is enough now to silence him. Magic! I got this trick from the dog trainer my family had when I was a teen ager. That dog trainer had a black lab who would bark ferociouly on command when his owner said either “Russians!” or “Dallas Cowboys!” (What can I say? It was Washington DC in the eighties.) Word of caution: do not abuse this newfound power. Dogs have VERY sensitive hearing which is why this works. Do not let your three year old get a hold of the can. It’s mean to the dog.

    Good luck with your dog training!

  8. Nerissa,

    Thanks so much for sharing! It sounds like you had a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving.

    My husband and I took our 8-month old daughter up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to visit my parents, so she got to see her first snowfall on her first Thanksgiving. She also cut her first tooth, so it was quite eventful.

    A lot of Finnish people settled in the area of the UP where I grew up. When I was a kid, I was very outgoing and rode my bike for miles to visit a couple of old Finnish ladies. They would invite me in for Nisu (a Finnish coffee bread) and we would chat. I don’t think they had a name for it, but it was just like what you’ve described.

    So often we get caught up in the mentality that we must always be doing something, and we forget to just be. Don’t get me wrong – being an engineer, I like to plan out activities for all of my vacations, too. However, when I visit with family, I try to remember the importance of being present to each other. Maybe that’s because I only get to see my parents 3 times a year, so when we are together, I simply sit back and enjoy (and if we happen to go hiking or snowshoeing or fishing, so much the better).


    PS I’m glad you had success with the “anti-bark can of coins.” I tried this with my chocolate lab and she thought it was a game. Luckily, she only seems to bark when people come to the door. I think she’s just saying “come play! come play!” 🙂

  9. N~
    Enjoy Sir William (and Amelia and cousins) being so close…our newest member, baby Ned, is all the way in England, and the next baby-boy-to-be is in Australia…all we get are pictures for a while.

    Fabulous concert last night…I look forward to those new songs being put on a CD, they were amazing.

  10. On this very cold morning in North Carolina, I felt a glow of warmth creep through me as I read that beautiful entry. It was like hearing a new Nields song, only in prose. How blessed we all are!
    Jeff from Charlotte

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