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.

November 30, 2012


Eleven years ago today, John and I moved from a town in West Michigan to Chicago. We rented a one-bedroom apartment in a prewar seven-story building in north Lakeview. The bedroom was so narrow that we got out of bed at its foot, not on the sides. The ceilings were tall, and the big windows looked out on other buildings, a gas station, a pawnshop, part of a billboard, a small slice of Wrigley Field.

My in-laws helped us move that Friday, driving our Penske truck while we drove my old Jetta, our goldfish clutched in a Tupperware between my knees. The power went out for awhile as we were carrying in boxes, the late-autumn sky darkening at 4:30 in the afternoon. We ate dinner at a Wrigleyville dive. I cut my hand unpacking the food processor. On Monday morning, we started our new jobs, and I took the Broadway bus to work, not realizing the el would’ve taken half as much time until my boss kindly explained that. We started new lives as city people.

El station in the Loop

Moving to Chicago is one of the things I’m proudest of having done in my life. When we arrived, we didn’t know anyone here except for one college acquaintance. Neither of us had ever lived in a city; John has never lived anywhere but the town where he was born. We left good jobs, and we left family and friends, and we set out on our own. We made it happen. We were 26 and 25, married just five months. I’ll always believe that the move brought us even closer together, since for awhile, we had no one but each other for company.

Spring sunset, North Side neighborhood

Obviously, a lot has happened to us in the past 11 years. We’ve become managers at our jobs; we’ve traveled around the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe; and we’ve had three dogs. I’ve earned a master’s degree and run two half-marathons. We’ve rented one apartment and bought two condos. We changed our religious denominations and joined an Episcopal church, although right now we don’t really attend. We entered our thirties. We decided to adopt a baby. And, of course, we became parents. There are now three of us, and that’s the biggest change of all.

Chicago has been part of all this. It’s not just the backdrop to my life; I feel like it’s a leading character. My life is better because I live in this city. It’s given me opportunities to grow and learn, for recreation and entertainment, to taste and see and experience so many new things. It’s gotten me in better shape. It’s helped solidify my political leanings. It’s introduced me to so many different people and different kinds of people. I’ve written about a lot of this, going back to 2003, and I love remembering that sense of discovery I had in the beginning, as I started to make the city, or my corner of it, my own. 

Election night 2008

My first home was in Pennsylvania. When I was 18 and my family moved to Michigan, that move left a gaping hole in my heart where home should be. The seven years I lived in Michigan brought many good things into my life, but the places I lived there were never home. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to consider home during that part of my life. Chicago has filled the hole. It’s part of who I am; it’s truly home, and for that, I feel fortunate indeed.

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November 1, 2012

On turning two

Will can use a fork and spoon. He knows how to pet the dog gently (usually). He just started giving his stuffed animals a drink from his sippy cup—the first signs of pretend play. He can put on slip-on shoes. He’s excited to mimic everything we do. He loves his push tricycle. He loves to dance to “Gangnam Style.” If he sees a flower, even a fake one, he puts his nose to it. When a plate of food is set in front of him, especially at restaurants, he says enthusiastically, “MMMMMM!” If you tell him to go to his room and get a book and bring it to Dad, he does just that.

His first Halloween
He’s started to climb; we’ve taken down the crib and he seems thrilled about having his mattress on the floor. He gets excited about cars and motorcycles, buses and bulldozers, traffic lights, pumpkins on a porch. (We say hello to our pumpkins every day when we get home.) He can kick a ball with gusto. He puts toys in containers and dumps them out. He stacks his matchbox cars on top of each other. His dance moves consist of bouncing his head, squatting up and down, and turning in a slow circle until he gets too dizzy and tumbles to the floor.

He loves eating yogurt, rice and beans, fish, chicken, sweet potato fries, Korean noodles, kefir smoothies, waffles with peanut butter, grapes and berries, the occasional special-treat Oreo, and all kinds of cereal. He can climb up stairs on his own two feet, although he still reaches out for help sometimes. I want him to master the stairs, but I also want to hold that little hand.

I find myself wanting to stop time, to imprint little moments in my brain so they never fade away: He waves his hand, a pint-sized conductor, to get us to sing. He stands outside the glass door while John’s showering, rubbing his own hair and grinning as John shampoos. He laughs out loud when I send a car zooming down the ramp of his new toy garage. He burrows into me at bedtime. He turns around and backs down into my lap when we’re reading a book. He lifts a forkful of noodles to his mouth, or balances a piece of food on his sippy cup, then claps delightedly at his own success. He maneuvers his feet into our shoes and clomps around. He shrieks “MAH?!” when he sees the neighbor’s cat. He turns back to look at me again and again while he eats, while he plays with a toy, while he dances to music.

He’s at such an innocent age. A walk in the alley behind our home is slow-moving with wonder. Any new toy is a revelation. Seeing the television turned on is the height of excitement. When I say, “Please hold Mom’s hand,” he reaches up automatically. He doesn’t care what we dress him in. We do not embarrass him. We’re everything to him. There are so many things about the future that I’m excited about, and so many things that I know I’ll miss about this age and stage. Sometimes I already feel nostalgic for what he’s like right now.

I’m trying so hard to be present every day, to focus on the beauty and meaning of being his mother and watching him grow. I’m not saying anything new when I state that parenting a toddler can be very challenging, and sometimes I think it causes me to not see the forest for the trees. I focus on his whining, or on his refusal to sleep, or on trying to plan activities to keep him occupied, or on the confounding mercurialness of his toddler wants and needs. (“Mom, how dare you offer me grapes! But in 10 seconds, I will scream and whine because I don’t have grapes!”) Those trees can loom large. I’m writing this because I want to remember to look past them, to step back, to see the utter miracle that is the forest.

Happy 2nd birthday, Will Jiho.

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