As little girls, my sister and I played pretend in a pink polyester dress and musty-smelling man’s dinner jacket and clomped around the house in my mother’s high heeled wedding shoes, with the implicit expectation someday our small feet would fit into those shiny and coveted heels.
For my feet, not so. My grown-up women’s feet are size five, my older daughter’s size eleven.
Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I believed in a 1950s-framework of a long marriage, two or three children primarily reared by myself as mother, a college education, and a stable and possibly sedate life. It was a vision of life I was doomed to abysmally fail.
While those values lay deeply in my culture, they weren’t particularly in my own childhood home. Unlike every other family in the small New Hampshire town I grew up in, my parents were happiest packing up our old green Jeep and camping all summer on the cheap in national parks west of the Mississippi River. We spent our best hours cooking on a Coleman stove with our kitchen stuff in cardboard boxes, playing Hearts by lantern light and reading used books at the picnic table. “Leave It to Beaver” is a concept I culturally grasp, but I’ve never watched an episode, and I’m willing to bet my siblings haven’t, either.
So when my daughters discovered my wedding dress while cleaning a closet the other day, marveling that its size will never fit either of them, I laughed and told them it was just as well. Each of them can stitch or discover their own attire.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is one that sings.
– Wendell Berry, “Poetry and Marriage”