High School in the Time of Covid

My daughter’s high school varsity soccer team, the Lady Cats, advanced into the playoffs — local joy against rising Covid rates and the election hurtling along.

I didn’t play sports as a student, the lone wolf who ran long solitary runs — pretty much what I’m doing now, except these are short solitary runs. But to be a kid on a local team who wasn’t expected to do well at all — that’s a big deal.

Friday, I’m home briefly in the middle of the day. My daughter and her friend have finished school for the day. In the living room, they’ve set up this year’s version of high school, each with their notebooks and a school-issued Chromebook, surrounded by piles of my library books, their cleats drying beside the wood stove. The room is sunny and warm, and the girls are intently working at whatever assignment — chemistry or algebra.

I fill my thermos with espresso and ask my daughter’s friend if she’d like a cup. I’m joking, but she happily accepts. I’d love an espresso.

So, in a little china cup painted with blueberries that my daughter once used for milk, I serve this girl an espresso, who thanks me.

Before I head out the door again, I look back at these two. I’m happy to be employed, heading to interesting work, on this sunny autumn day, in my Shire of Vermont. But goodness, I’m grateful for girls and warmth. The whole world matters — disease and political collapse — but this afternoon matters, too.

I open the kitchen door, call I love you, step out into the chilly afternoon, and close the door carefully behind me.

Half Moon

I step around the barn in the twilight and see the half moon shimmering above the barn’s back corner, like a surprise.

I empty the ash bucket and set it on the cement step, waiting for my daughters and our twilight walk, as the dusk shakes down.

A year ago, my oldest was in New Mexico, visiting my parents and hanging out with my brother and his girlfriend. After a wild wind and rain storm, the power went out, and my youngest and I ate take-out by candlelight. Always, at this time of year, as the days perceptibly shorter, I realize how profoundly cold and dark has wound into my life, spread physically and metaphorically into the life I’ve shaped as a woman and a mother.

What’s different this year is the collective darkness of disease as the rates of Covid increase around our little world, of the unraveling political world relentlessly marching along.

And yet — there’s that ancient silent moon.

My daughters are laughing as they walk towards me.

What? I ask.

They look at each other again, and my oldest says, Nothing, Mom, and then they laugh again.

“I am more convinced than ever that we are shards of others.”

— Jenn Shapland, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

Photo by Molly S.

Ordinary Day

Like so many parents, the impending opening (or not) of school looms over us. My 15-year-old is desperate to go. Every afternoon, picking her up from soccer practice, my friend and I stand in the parking lot, talking. As we share trivial and not-at-all trivial snippets in these few moments, I eye the sprawling brick high school, thinking, Really? How is any of this possible? Lumping teens together, here or in any other building? Does this make sense at all?

What my kid wants is clear — to hang with her friends, to rise up in a real challenge, to learn, to begin finding her forward to her own adult life. Basic stuff.

I’ve hit places of indecision in my life before, like when I uncoupled myself from a marriage. But now? My friend and I stand in collective indecision. Finished, our girls walk towards us in their cleats, sweatshirts slung over their shoulders, masks dangling from their hands. They’re looking at each other and at us, laughing, maybe making a joke about the two of us, or maybe simply happy in this sunny August afternoon, tired from practice and hungry for dinner.

My friend and I look at each other and remark on our girls’ happiness — thankfully. We lean against our cars, talking.

For this moment, there’s no school, no tomorrow, no next week, not even these past lonely months.

And because my mind works this way, I think of how a river turns when it meets an obstacle, never bullying forward, but shifting with the lay of the land. The lay of our land has changed.

The girls look at each other, giggling, and I’m suddenly sure they’ve been laughing at my friend and me. I’m utterly happy about that.

“Life is always rushing away from us.”

— Stephen Kiernan, Universe of Two

Random Evening

After dinner, I suggest walking to the post office with the mail that needs to go out.

My 15-year-olds says hopefully, Drive?

I’d rather not. I rather walk by the food pantry and admire their stunning flower garden before this season’s blossoms fade, but I say sure. For a few more months, she can’t drive without me.

There’s hardly anyone out this evening, as she drives to the post office, then up to the high school where she parks, and we laugh, and we walk around the building. The school’s been closed for months now. Weeds from the front flowerbed spread across the cement walkway.

There’s no one around. A heron wings across the sky.

At the parking lot’s exit, she brakes and asks me, Which way?

You’re driving, I answer.

She turns away from home.

As she drives, I think of that old cliché, that having small children brings you into the hear-and-now. Same for the pandemic, I suppose. She circles through town and stops at the community gardens, where I get out and admire the raised beds.

Each of these days is a kind of bouquet — filled with work and exhaustion, with garden picking and wood stacking, with my daughter’s wondering, Will soccer really begin this Monday?, with our little family, sometimes getting along, sometimes out of sorts, but always pulling together in one way or another.

As she drives, I think of history and all the hard, hard times people have endured. The future lies before us, a great unknown, and yet, each day, this daughter edges one day closer to her own womanhood.

She pulled over to the side of the road, parks, and get out. Look at the sky, she says. She snaps a photo, making a memory of these days.

Photo by Gabriela S.

Girl All Grown Up

In a handful of days, my oldest daughter will be twenty-one. Wow, that’s a birthday.

When she turned six and I marveled over that, another mother told me all birthdays are big. Six was big, and so was seven, and so on. But 21? That’s an age when her heart’s been broken, more than once, an age when she’s fully left adolescence and crossed over into the realm of adulthood.

The year she turned six, her best girlfriend from down the road walked over wearing a tutu. Snow was falling.

When she turned seven, my friend had made her a piñata with purple and silver sparkles. When the pretty thing broke apart, her baby sister cried.

Twenty-one: now I keep up with the Impeachment hearings to hold up my end of our conversation. Twenty-one: so glad to have you here.

No matter who lives, who dies, the seasons never rest.
Creatures take their turns, and the year turns and turns.

David Budbill, Judevine

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Train Trip

Four summers ago, my family planned an Amtrak journey from Vermont to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in what would be the longest family trip of our girls’ childhood. That summer trip evolved into an illustration of that Robert Burns’ line about the best laid schemes not following the script.

We set out with a curveball detour to Charlottesville, then to New Mexico via Chicago. Somewhere in the month of  August, driving my dad’s old Subaru through the Navajo reservation, I wondered what if the hydrangea outside our back door was blooming, and if we would ever return home.

We did, of course.

In Travels with Charley, Steinbeck writes about how trips take over — true, true….

Yesterday, for a writing assignment, I took my 13-year-old and her friend to the southern end of Vermont on Amtrak  — just enough of riding the rails, of licking ice cream and browsing bookstores, walking across the bridge spanning the Connecticut River so we stepped into New Hampshire.

Back the Montpelier station, we drove home through the breathtaking July dusk, along dirt roads flanked brightly with David Budbill’s ubiquitous day lilies. My daughter went to sleep last night with her cat curled at the foot of her bed.

I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation — a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every states I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.

— John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley: In Search of America

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Brattleboro Museum of Art, Vermont