The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

June 22, 2011

One decade

Ten years ago today, John and I were married. The wedding was in a Catholic church in our neighborhood in Michigan. The reception was just down the street on the grounds of an old mansion. It was outdoors, under a lit-up white tent, surrounded by green grass and candlelight. It rained during the ceremony, briefly, but it stopped just before we exited the church in a gentle storm of bubbles and cheers. Wine flowed at the reception. There was a lot of laughing, especially at the toasts. The dance floor was full at all times. The blessings of that night were so amazingly great I could not wrap my arms around them. I couldn’t fathom the joyfulness.

Ten years ago, I was 25 and John was 26. (Where we lived in western Michigan, we felt we were on the “older side” to be getting married; we’d already attended many, many weddings together.) He was a staff accountant who’d just passed his CPA test. I worked in corporate communications and had recently graduated from filing papers and proofreading emails to editing and writing for employee publications. I was Catholic and John was Christian Reformed.

After our wedding, he moved into my one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a rambling old Victorian house. A raccoon lived in the turret above our bed. We had no Internet connection. I had been wanting to move to Chicago for awhile, and John, who had never left his hometown, not even for college, was game. We looked for jobs, combing the classifieds at work and at the local library’s computers. By late fall, after a few trips around the lake to interview, we’d found work at a CPA firm and an academic press. We moved to the city on Nov. 30, 2001.

Our first apartment had huge windows and one tiny bedroom. When the back window was open, you could hear the crowds cheering at Wrigley Field. During our two years there, we started to put down roots in Chicago. We settled into our jobs. I began attending grad school for a master’s in writing. We decided to become Episcopalians together. We went to Wrigley bars, and we discovered “new” food—Thai! Middle Eastern! I started to run along the lakefront. When the woman who owned our apartment decided to sell it, we decided to move and buy a condo of our own.

We relocated about a mile and a half north. Two bedrooms now, and central air, and free washers and dryers in the basement! We’d stay in this building for six years, becoming close friends with several of our neighbors and getting involved in our block club. John was promoted, then promoted again. I started a new job at a marketing/publishing firm. We had Moose, our beloved greyhound; he lived with us there for four years, until bone cancer took him. Stella joined us a few months later. I graduated with my MA. John brewed homemade beer. I realized I could run three miles at a time, and we started doing 5K races together. We celebrated our fifth anniversary. We turned 30.

The housing market fell, the government offered a credit to first-time homebuyers, and we decided to sell, and to stay in the city. We fell hard for a place just a bit west of us, and the stars aligned, and it was meant to be, and we sold our first condo and bought our second. Three bedrooms, our own washer and dryer, and the huge deck we’d been wanting for years. It was our dream home, and after almost two years there, it still is. In it we’ve watched Stella blossom into a dog who’s no longer afraid of her own shadow. We’ve entertained friends, planted flowers, and mowed the (OK, very small) lawn. And we made the decision to become parents through adoption.

In the past ten years, we have traveled to the Outer Banks, New Hampshire, Key West, Colorado, New York, St. Augustine, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. The British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas. France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy. Next year, Korea.

Of course, I can’t fully describe a decade in one online post. In the past ten years, we have laughed a lot. We have felt grateful. We have worried, and cried, and faced some hard things. But we’ve still, always, felt grateful.

Now, on June 22, 2011, we are 35 and 36. We are both managers. (We have gone through ten married tax seasons together.) I’m a half-marathoner. John is an accomplished guitar player. We’re better cooks, we’re more well traveled, we have different ideas about religion than we used to, although we’re still at the same moderate-liberal spot politically. My hair is grayer, John’s is a little more sparse, and both of us have laugh lines around our eyes. Although we’re healthy and in good shape, I should say that my back hurts if I stand at a concert for too long.

I have a partner who is adventurous, patient, understanding, fun, honest, loyal, and supportive. He is a man who is going to be everything our child could want in a father. I look at the past decade, feel extremely satisfied with it, and feel excited to turn the page. I will never stop realizing how lucky I am to turn that page with him.

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June 6, 2011

Running, registering, and this past weekend

I. Running

I’m in training again. My second half-marathon. When my friend-slash-coach emailed me my training plan, all twelve weeks lined up in a neat chart of miles, I was simultaneously elated and daunted. There are pace runs and intervals and fast finishes on that chart. My weekly long runs started with seven-milers. It’s a more aggressive plan than last year, because I want to run those 13.1 miles faster. I believe I can run them faster.

I know this is an eye-rolling, cringe-inducing statement to some, but I really do love to run. It makes me feel powerful and healthy, it helps me zip my jeans, it earns me membership in a community, it connects me to my city in a unique way. But I’ve realized that, like anything else, just because you love something doesn’t mean it’s pink roses and calico kittens all the time. I worry about getting hurt. I worry about failing. Sometimes I don’t want to run. Sometimes I set out for my long run and hate the entire first mile; the weight of the distance left to go seem so unbearable. My mind boggles at the fact that there are still seven, eight, twelve miles to cover.

Long runs are funny things. I find myself needing a day or two to psych myself up for them, especially when I’m in the above-ten-miles range. Our minds hold a lot of power; completing a long run is a physical achievement, of course, but your brain has to be on board to propel you through. When I’m running for two hours, my thoughts swing from ecstasy to agony, bliss to torture. I look at my fellow runners, at the dogs and boats and soccer players, then I zone out and don’t notice anything for a mile. My right knee twinges and aches. I worry that I’m getting sunburned. Then I round a bend and see the sun glittering on the mighty lake and feel like my chest is going to burst with joy, because I get to have this experience, this feeling, this accomplishment.

Two miles later, I hate every step and can think of nothing but the shower and beer waiting for me back home.

It’s fascinating to me, those mental and physical shifts. But above all else, running gives me space to think, to truly be alone in my head, if that makes sense, even as I’m surrounded by hundreds of Chicagoans. I suspect I’m going to value this time even more when I’m a mom. And certainly my main topic of thought while running these days is our little guy. The miles fly by when you’re thinking of names, mentally debating whether you need a pack-n-play, and scrutinizing every jogging stroller that flies down the path.

II. Registering

I went to Babies R Us for the first time a couple weeks ago. My friend Mandy came along to help me start our registry. Mandy and I have a lot in common: we both waited until our mid-30s to have our first child, we live in similar-sized city condos, and our reaction to places like Babies R Us is more overwhelmed-ness than excitement. Don’t get me wrong; I was extremely excited to register, but I definitely needed some navigational assistance. So we spent two hours on a Wednesday night roaming the store, waving the little gun over changing-pad covers and thermometers and wipes and plastic utensils and a carseat. We discussed the merits of homemade baby food. We tried on diaper bags. I got a little choked up around the bath toys. It was so, so much fun.

In the past month, John and I have allowed ourselves to realize that we’re actually going to become parents. For the first time, it’s all seemed so real. Based on referrals coming to other families who are with our agency, we realized that ours could come at the early end of the six-to-nine-month wait we were quoted. In fact, it could come in early June. And then, we could be in Seoul in as little as twelve weeks after that. I didn’t want to cram all our preparations into three months. And I wanted to give adequate advance notice at work. So I told my boss the news (she was over the moon). My college girlfriends gave me a beautiful shower at our annual reunion in May. I signed up for a weekly e-newsletter that tracks your baby’s development, guessing that maybe he’d been born in February. John and I made plans to paint the nursery on the weekend of our tenth wedding anniversary in June. I made sure my phone’s ringer was always turned on.

III. This past weekend

Friday was warm and summer-like. We decided to grill after work, and we lounged on the deck, enjoying the balmy air, savoring our beers, John flipping the bison burgers as they seared. Life felt so perfect. “When do you think our referral will come?” he asked me out of the blue, his eyes alight.

Later, before bed, I went online to check the weekend forecast and plan when to do my long run. I zipped around a few sites and visited Cheese Curds and Kimchi, a blog written by a couple who just brought their son home from Seoul a few weeks ago. As soon as I began to read the news in her latest post, my stomach turned over, and then I was crying, and all of those happy expectations and plans and hopes were just—not there anymore.

I definitely recommend clicking on that link; Pix is a terrific writer and she explains the situation really well. In a nutshell, the Korean government is attempting to slow, and eventually end, international adoption. They’re allowing fewer and fewer babies to leave the country each year—there’s an annual quota for how many can be adopted internationally. But domestic adoption rates aren’t rising fast enough to make up the difference. So more and more babies are having to wait longer to join their international families. If they’re matched with a family but the quota is then reached, they have to wait until the following year to travel, when a new batch of annual permits is issued.

Our agency historically hasn't been as affected by this quota as others, which is why we switched to it. But as of last month, that changed. Somehow, we fell through the cracks and weren’t informed—our social worker hasn’t explained why, but she confirmed what I read online. There will be no more referrals until late fall, there will be no travel until 2012, and our child will very likely be older than twelve months when he comes home. We had been expecting him to be nine or ten months, and we didn’t imagine Christmas 2011 without him.

What else to say? This was a tough blow. We aren’t in control of this process, but it’s really hard to readjust our expectations. We don’t have a choice. But it’s still really hard. I feel like we’re back at that place where it doesn’t feel real. We can fill our lives with work and classes and dinner with friends, summer festivals, camping trips, and the beach, and we will. But part of me feels like I’m ready for this era of my life to end, for the new one to begin, and now I don’t know when that will happen.


On Saturday night, we decided to go downtown for dinner at an Indian place. The car ride down Lake Shore Drive was a quiet one. We parked in a garage, and when I got out, I found a black wallet at my feet. It contained a driver’s license, credit card, about $30, and some mints. Amazingly, the owner lived just three blocks west of us, on the same street. We found him on Facebook, saw that he was a server at a nearby restaurant, and called there to let him know we’d found his wallet. We offered to bring it by after our meal.

The restaurant is a swanky new steakhouse overlooking the river. We showed up around 10, and when we spoke with the hostess, she began gushing about how kind we were and insisted we have a round of drinks on the house. So we found ourselves sitting in the dark, hushed bar, raising two glasses to good karma. We’ll take all we can get.

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