Day 11: 2021 in review

Quick recap of yesterday, first: actually a very productive day! Got some work done, went on a 4 mile walk that went *much* better than the day before (ears were covered, was not nauseous, actually enjoyed it and probably would have gone further), and acquired Christmas present for my parents (joint present from my brother and me – good sense of achievement there). I imagine this begs the question, why have we not opened gifts yet? Because we are waiting in case my brother can join us for New Year’s Eve/Day.

So. 2021. You were a freaking challenge.

You started pretty well: I had been able to spend the Christmas holidays at home with my parents despite covid worries (this included a self-imposed rule staying masked up even inside the house for the first 10 days or so of the trip) and our anomalous little 3-person Christmas was delightful in its own way. My brother joined us to ring in the new year (despite much hand wringing on my and my mother’s part regarding covid risks) and actually stayed 9 days with us! It was a luxuriously long visit and we relished it, taking long walks together and indulging in all of our favorite foods together.

January through mid-May were characterized by a nose to the grindstone (is that even the right expression?) to ploughing through work and socking away money for our down payment, paying the notary and real estate people, and actually furnishing the house. I was working for the university, a few other teaching jobs on the side, an English-language testing company (administering oral tests), and translating, and I generally recall a rushed and exhausted feeling of ‘just get through this so that we don’t have to stress about house money this summer’. Some highlights:

  • I got my covid vaccine! (January/February) This was inordinately exciting.
  • We finalized the order for our kitchen after much angst and tortured decision making. (March)
  • I took five exams for my masters’ degree (Education Systems, 28/30; Sociolinguistics, 30/30; Computational linguistics, 27/30; Historical linguistics, 30/30 + honors; Lab, pass), leaving four more to get through
  • I applied to work at a different university under a 1-year employee contract (rather than freelance as I was doing at the time), interviewed for it, got the job, and started working there! This also involved much angst, as a similar hiring process was also underway at the university I was previously working at but it was languishing on and on with numerous cancelled interview dates, so while it sort of felt like I was betraying them, it also felt justified. (Flash forward: I am now enormously satisfied with this decision even though it’s a 1-year contract rather than permanent. I am hopeful about it being renewed.)
  • I started work (freelance) with a new translation agency, which started to send me an initially slow but steady stream of work.
  • I applied for another oral examination-type job (an exceedingly annoying process) and eventually got that job too.
  • I turned 35! The boyfriend also had a birthday.
  • I negotiated and eventually committed to purchasing the little apartment partially above ours. It was a very good price (not as low as I would have wished, but it ended up coming with another garage space under the building). The dream is that my mother or even both parents would use it to stay in when they come to visit me, in the hopes that having their own space would make them feel comfortable and more apt to stay for longer visits. In any case, the mortgage rate is very low and I feel it will have decent resale value, so I think it’s a good investment. From an emotional perspective, I am satisfied that I will have done my very best to give my parents a comfortable and cozy place to stay in the location I have chosen to set up my life. (You may detect a sense of attempting to assuage guilt about moving so far away here. You would not be wrong.)

May and June were marked by the discovery that my father had a growth in his bladder and needed to have surgery to remove it asap. My mother, brother, and I immediately went into discussion about how quickly we could each get there, despite mitigating factors: I live in Italy; my mother was in France caring for her own ailing mother, and my brother lives out west with his partner, who travels a lot for work, and their three dogs. It was decided that my mother would fly in the next day, me the day after, and my brother the week after. For my part, this decision was also made with much angst because I also wanted to fly out immediately, but we had (with not insignificant difficulty) scheduled the date to officially sign for our house. It was decided we would keep that date and I would fly out the day after.

This was far from ideal: as stated above, I had been working nose-to-the-grindstone for months for the express purpose of being able to fully savor the purchasing of and moving into our new house. The plan had been very carefully and perfectly coordinated, if I say so myself: working locally administering exams Monday-Tuesday; sign for house and celebrate Wednesday; business trip to Tuscany administering more exams Thursday-Friday, with Saturday tacked on and the boyfriend tagging along to convert it into a celebratory business trip/mini-break; return refreshed and energized to start packing up the old house and working on the new one.

Instead, I muddled my way through the first half of the examining week, cancelled the second half, had an epically long translation to finish Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning (I finished this in the car outside the notary’s office, for maximum madness), signed for the house still Wednesday morning, surreally received the keys later the same day and walked through it, packed a small suitcase feverishly, and flew out the next day. I need to rework this in my memory, because I know I am skipping over the good parts: we had a couple of hours to kill between the signing process and receiving the keys, with that bouyant victorious feeling that comes from accomplishing something big (in our case officially buying the house after all those months of waiting, and in my case also finishing that translation) so we had a celebratory lunch with my best friend. It was the most glorious sunny day, and the photos and videos I took of the house after we got the keys are a lovely memory. The boyfriend and I had a celebratory pizza together that evening before heading home to pack. I have hope that in time, these will be my memories of buying our first house, instead of the imaginary neon sign in my head flashing CANCER and the grinding sensation of fear in my stomach.

I stayed in the US with my parents for three weeks. My brother also joined us. There were nice times dotted in there, but the overwhelming memory is of stress. Waiting for results. Managing my father’s reaction to those results, and our reactions to his reactions. (It’s not my story to tell, so I won’t go into further detail except to say that it was an emotionally raw time for all of us.) In the meantime, worrying about my grandmother back over in France, who had been left with her team of caregivers (a mix of amazing and decidedly sub-ideal, so that what kind of day we were going to have was partially dependant on who showed up at her house that day).

One particularly traumatic memory stands out: my poor mother’s birthday happened to coincide with a difficult doctor’s appointment for my father. The only celebration that I managed to muster for my mother was to take her for coffee and donuts by the side of a reservoir near our house, and to have one of our beloved relaxing movie nights at home. Having redeemed the day as best we could, we were about to drop exhausted into our beds when my mother happened to check my grandmother’s bedroom camera and notice she wasn’t breathing well. Two hours of terror ensued as we watched her breathe horribly on camera while trying to contact anyone within a feasible radius who could go and rescue her. We finally went to bed at 3 a.m., grandmother safely (mircaulously, to be honest) shipped off to the ER.

While I was in the US doing all of this, the boyfriend had surgery to have his gallbladder out. Poor soul. Given the how the rest of the year went, this unfortunately barely even makes the list of challenges. His mother and sister took care of him and after the first two days of painful recovery, he was back on his feet and feeling better. Which is good, because people were coming to install the kitchen in our new house. Throughout all of this I (pettily, I’ll admit) felt extremely jealous that after all these months of working to get the down payment together, I couldn’t even be there for the first few days of our new house’s life. I kept picturing the boyfriend there with his mother, moving things in and setting up and the house not even feeling like mine by the time I got there, despite all the work I did to make sure we could afford it. (The boyfriend was highly respectful of this and only did the bare minimum.)

Mid-June through July were some of the nicest parts of the year. My grandmother was safely ensconced in the hospital (this may not seem like a positive thing, but she really loved being in the geriatric ward for some reason, and it meant we didn’t have to worry about her as much) and things my mother was handling things with my father. If I really think about it, my mother gifted me that time of minimum worry: she took care of things in the US so that I could enjoy a bit of the summer, and moving into our new house! Highlights include:

  • Moving into the new house! This happened with stops and starts due to the electricity taking an age to be connected, but we eventually did move in.
  • A short but wonderful trip down the coast for a well-deserved (again, if I say so myself) few days off. There was time at the beach; there was reading and even dozing off on lounge chairs to the sound of the waves; there were cute hilltop towns with views over the sea to explore in the evenings; and there was the loveliest field of sunflowers reaching out to meet the sea, which happened to also be the view from our B&B room. Perfection! Hilariously, we actually went on this trip while waiting for the electricity to be turned on at the new place. Ha. Slight negative note: I had to spend our first few hours there finishing a translation and also run an online exam for one whole morning of our time there. Why is there never time to actually fully take time off from work? Definitely something I need to work on in the new year.
  • Wrapping up the school year from a teaching perspective, and also taking two more exams towards my masters’ from a student perspective (cognitive sciences, 30/30 + honors; phonetics and phonology, 30/30). I felt very satisfied despite having to give up on another one I would have liked to take.
  • Settling into the new house: installing ceiling fans (no air-conditioning as yet, though it is a future plan), our first few nights there, my first time working from my new office overlooking the fields behind the house… ah. Loved that getting settled feeling.
  • Ordering the sofa: this was the next “big item” after the kitchen, and the decision-making struggle was intense. We eventually did it, though, just under the wire – juuust the day before leaving for Paris and then the US.
  • A lovely trip to Paris with the boyfriend, and then with my favorite cousin and her children. The boyfriend and I had a few nice, summery walks around Paris together, but mostly kept my grandmother company in the hospital. She loved seeing the boyfriend, and she was still lucid enough then that I was able to show her a video of our new house, and share the sofa-choosing angst with her. A particularly cherished detail: when asked, she chose the same fabric that we had, and so now we call it her sofa. The boyfriend recorded some of these conversations on video and now they are a precious memory.

August passed by in the usual haze of being home, though this time the usual blissful feeling was overshadowed by my father’s health. He changed doctors and had a much better experience with the second one, culminating (temporarily) in a standard 3-month check procedure that gave him the all clear. (It needs to be repeated every 3 months for the next two years, so it is very temporary, but was still cause for much relief.) It felt like finally being able to breathe again, but only after months of tension. Meanwhile, in the outside world, the delta variant raged through and so I didn’t see any family members.

August slipped into September, during which:

  • I visited my grandmother twice: once on the way back to Italy from the US, with the boyfriend meeting me there, and once about ten days later, when she seemed to be deteriorating. My brother was also there during the second visit, so it was nice to see him, too. We could feel the end approaching.
  • In between, the boyfriend and I attempted to go on another mini-vacation. He had originally taken two weeks off to possibly come to a visit to the US and, for the second year running, had been blocked by covid, so it seemed only right that we make at least a vague attempt to do something vacation-y. We booked 4 nights down in Tuscany but ended up returning a day early so that I could head back to Paris the day after. The 4-ish days in Tuscany were very nice, but overshadowed by worry about my grandmother and also the boyfriend studying for an exam (to potentially change jobs to a state position). I also had to take a 3-hour meeting for work during one of the evenings, which contributed to the feeling of never being able to fully shut down.
  • I started work at the new university job! I liked my colleagues! I liked my classes! I liked the walk around the campus in the glorious weather that September gave us! This was another little idyll of normalcy in the year.

October brought that swiftly to an end, though: I had carefully asked the new job for time off and booked tickets to be with my grandmother in mid-October for her 101st birthday, but my mother called me in the first week of October to say that we had really and truly reached the end. The day after this phone call was the exam the boyfriend had been studying for, so I accompanied him to it (necessitating a ridiculously early wake up time), spent the entirety of his exam stressing about my grandmother, and by the time he had returned (triumphant! Top marks. Good job, boyfriend!) I had made the decision to make a mad dash to Paris to say goodbye to my grandmother. Thus ensued: a drive home with a very bizarre atmosphere (boyfriend with that glorious post-successful-exam feeling but trying to suppress it for my sake; me trying to celebrate boyfriend and feeling guilty that we couldn’t go out to celebrate together that night), speedy packing of usual overnight backpack and then subsequent transfer to small suitcase when I realized I needed to also pack for a funeral, drive to the airport, flight, RER train from airport to Paris center, metro from Paris center to suburbs, tragic attempts to run (interspersed with speed-walking) from metro stop to hospital (suitcase bouncing along behind) while realizing that this was it: it was officially the last time I was going to visit my grandmother. I arrived at the gates of the hospital crying, and am pretty sure the guard who checked my vaccine status took me for a battered woman running away from home, because she asked me several times if I was okay.

In any case, I made it. I talked to my grandmother and kissed her forehead and played Chopin for her on my phone and held her hand. My uncle and my mother and I chatted companionably. For being a deathbed vigil, I like to think we made it as nice for my grandmother as we could. We told the nurse that if the last moments looked to be happening during the night, they could call us and I would make the trek over to be there, but actually they called us early the next morning to tell us she had passed away in the night, probably in her sleep. We buried her on what would have been her 101st birthday. This does not feel like the right forum to explore my sadness about losing my grandmother, so I shall just say that it contributed to the weight of this heavy year.

The second half of October and November perked things up a little:

  • In one bright and lovely weekend towards the end of October, I took two hikes with two different groups of people (boyfriend and his friends; my best friend) and that felt restorative
  • My mother came to visit the new house for the first time, and, just for added madness, we scheduled the signing for the little apartment upstairs that very morning. Very fortunately, the kind people at the building company we were buying it from gave us the keys before it was officially ours, so there was a week of cleaning it, building an Ikea bed in it, and then signing for it… followed by an afternoon dash to the airport to fetch my mother. Happy times: she loved it, and she loved my house, and we had perhaps the most relaxing five days of the entire year together.
  • We had my friend group over to the new house for the firs t time, too!
  • I went back to Paris for a weekend during my fall semester break to help pack up my grandmother’s apartment. It was sad, but also good.
  • Friends and I went on a trip up north for a birthday celebration and to kick off the Christmas season.

See, now that I describe it, November was actually really nice! (Okay, also, I worked like a dog between translating, the new university job, and still having one course to finish up for the old university, so I was also exhausted for most of it.) Perhaps this is why a year in review post is a good idea. For me. Goodness only knows who might have had the patience to read down this far if you somehow stumbled upon it!

December brought the holidays but also potentially scary news about my father and the unexpected death of a colleague, which honestly just felt like 2021 giving us a few last kicks in the stomach to wrap up with. However. The potentially scary news has turned out to not be as scary as previously imagined. The holidays have been nice even if omicron has prevented me from seeing most of our family (I still have been able to spend all this time with my parents, and I did see my cousin and his family as well as my best friend from college, so… glass half full, self!). And December brought us our first ever positive pregnancy test. So… thank you after all, 2021?

Anyway. I am cautiously hopeful about what 2022 will bring, and eager to jump into my planner, wherever and however I eventually get my hands on it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s