The perfect Valentine’s Day card for Miss Lil.
The perfect Valentine’s Day card for Miss Lil.
“There was love, an abundance of it; we just had to respect and accept that it was not the love of happily ever after. No, we would not be celebrating our 60th wedding anniversary, or even our sixth, but we would always be celebrating our children and the physical and emotional bond that brought them into being.
As it turns out, the world of moral absolutes is ill-suited to divorce. It isn’t a question of good/bad, success/failure, right/wrong. It is a recognition that what existed is irretrievably broken and that something else must be built in its place.
The decision to end a marriage is not about quitting; it is about letting go of one relationship in exchange for another. The equation isn’t love/not love. Divorce, at its best, is a love reborn — birthed from heartache and rage and despair and ultimately, forgiveness — that creates a different kind of family.”
Such a good essay. I read it, in the cool sunshine of my porch, the church up the street tolling its bells on the hour. Around me, fall is obligingly fall like: clear sky, dry leaves rattling in the breeze, the haze of summer dispelled.
Also, apropos of nothing, her characterizing child-rearing as feelings of love (of course) but also “corrosive boredom.”
I know “late blooming” mostly refers to an adolescent’s delayed development but this time of year, it puts me in mind of paper whites, which I like to grow during the weeks before Christmas. I started a few pots of them early in December but in our cold and dark house — kept this way because no one is ever home — they seemed delayed in their development: stumpy and gnarled like fetuses, like bulbs (which are flower fetuses, you could say), only loosely rooted in their cold beds of stone and dirt. More like graves than beds, come to think of it.
But then the holidays were truly upon us and I filled the fridge with food and the kids filled the house with messy bags of their stuff and carols filled the air and there were packages wrapped in bright paper and fires in the hearth and Christmas cards stacked on a silver tray and stockings hung with care.
And in response to all this, the paper whites bloomed.
Or maybe it was just because we finally turned the heat up.
There’s a secular kind of prayer I make when I fear something in my life is about to be lost. It goes like this: please, please, please, please.
On an everyday basis that thing is my phone and I am asking the Maker (of Apple Products) to reveal it to me as not lost after all. Please, please, please, please, I think. And there it is: my phone, tossed heedlessly into my bag, hidden in the black recesses among sundry other black things: a black wallet, a black notebook, a pair of black tights (whaaaa?). I feel a little spangle of relief; it’s a company-issued phone and I simple can’t tell the tech-support guy I lost another one. On most occasions, I remember to send up a thank you to the Maker that goes something like this: “You have saved me so much inconvenience not to mention groveling on this day and for that I am grateful.”
As a mother of two “children,” now in their twenties, I’ve had far too many occasions to send up that prayer to another Maker, who, although not well known to me, probably doesn’t reside in Cupertino.
Please, please, please, please, I would think as I pounded the playground looking for a lost Lily, who was not over by the swings, not underneath the life-sized concrete hippos, and not where I last saw her at the teeter-totters, before I fell into a conversation with another mother, complaining about our kids, in all likelihood. When Lily is found — trolling for food from the sanctimonious mom who always remembers to bring baggies of raisins and Goldfish — I don’t care that Mother Superior gives me a side-eyed look for losing my daughter and having no snacks. I send up a thank you to Whomever for restoring Lily to me, for making this day a perfectly ordinary one. I remember, at least in that moment, to stop wishing that extraordinary things would happen to me (“Hey lady, you look like a novelist! Got a book we can publish?”) and appreciate just how sweet ordinary life can be.
“Thank you,” I think, brushing the Goldfish dust from Lily’s round cheeks. “I will never complain about my children again.”
Fast-forward many years and Oliver, Lily’s younger brother, has offered to drive to Vermont to pick up his sister from college. It is Thanksgiving break and we are too cheap/broke to fly her home. As darkness is falling, some five hours after he should have arrived, Lily calls to say: “No Oliver.” I try his phone, which goes straight to voicemail but I don’t really worry until Lily calls two hours later with the same message: “No Oliver.” I try to go about my ordinary activities, shopping for the holiday, but my brain is scrambled with anxiety, and the grocery store is making me more nuts than usual: the bafflingly numerous choices when it comes to buttermilk, the throngs of shoppers in that supermarket-stupor of torpid movement, the grocery baggers in their grating Santa hats (it’s Thanksgiving people! If you feel you must wear a holiday topper, why not a pilgrim’s hat?). I am blinded by visions of Oliver, all of them catastrophic: car crashed into a tree or car out of gas and he’s walking down the road accosted by a crazy person or forced to sleep in the car, temperature plummeting, his vehicle black by the side of the black roadway, an obstacle the other car can’t see until … and so forth.
Please, please, please, please, I think, praying, in my way, for my ordinary life to resume. And it does, with an annoyed Oliver calling from a gas station up by the Canadian border, having missed his exit, having had his cell phone die, having had to listen to ten (he: “seriously, mom, ten?”) increasingly frantic messages from me. The next day I am still weak with relief over having both my children — and many other people I love — around the table. And even though the turkey is on the dry side and the gravy is on the thin side and the biscuits are a little weird (wrong buttermilk) and the cranberry relish is hated by all, I couldn’t be more grateful when my guests compliment me on the lovely meal.
“Thank you,” I say to them and also to Whomever. “Thank you so much.”
You know what life is NOT like? The Game of Life. God I hated that game. It just made people feel bad. And then everyone died.
Me, between gorgeous Lily and movie-star-looking Susie. A good night.
I’ve been meaning to start an online family tree for years and went so far as to gather letters and documents from my mother. Apparently, her mother — my grandmother and one of the least sentimental people on the planet — had a genealogy project cooking too, although never completed, as far as I can tell.
Here is an excerpt from a letter she received from some sort of cousin/in-law/auntie named Gladys, whose gimlet-eyed account of her family members makes me hoot.
Ruth was pretty when she was young, but these later years, she has sort of left herself go and is so out of shape, she is like a ball. She is short and broad and does not wear any garment at all and left her teeth go to pieces too.
Woodrow is just as careless as he can be, works in a Structo factory, and doesn’t seem to care how he looks. He too has left his teeth all got to pieces and never cares if he has a hair cut either.
And you should see their home place. It has never had any paint on the buildings since they were built. And so run down it is awful. They have no bathroom, only an old outside toilet that is falling down, tipping sideways and all but impossible to go into, we were there two days this fall, and the plaster had started to fall off the kitchen ceiling and a big hole there with more to come off. Oh my, I have said enough.