In the evening, as dusk settles in, my daughter and I walk downtown to the corner store.
I’m looking for Lifesavers, a rare treat in our house. She asked if I would mind buying her Lifesavers on my way home from work. I’d forgotten her request in my hurry home.
At the corner store, we realize she’s forgotten her mask, so I go in alone and stand there, pondering the three Lifesaver options that store offers. What the heck, I think, aren’t there like a thousand flavors of Lifesavers?
Outside, I find her leaning against the store’s cement block wall, talking on her phone to her uncle, who’s called to find out how school’s going and what’s up in the realm of pandemic adolescence. She’s talking and smiling, glad to hear from him, spilling her happiness with her math class and driver’s ed, the two bright spots in what otherwise appears to a whole lot of chaos.
These days, my head feels jammed with a snarly chaos, with a stream of work and winter prep, a marathon-length school board meeting, and our first frost. As my daughter talks, I wander along the river, its bank piled with old tires. Oak trees spread over the water, their leaves still summer green. What a story, I think, this will be one day, for these kids who grew up in the pandemic’s shadow.
I slide the packs of Lifesavers into her jacket pocket, my small offering.
I’m reading outside with my bare feet on the firepit stones when I feel something like my cat’s tongue on my toe. I’m reading intently, in the few remaining minutes before my daughter returns from soccer practice and my attention will abruptly shift into chat about school and peers and the righteous outrage I suddenly see emerging in this teen. How had I forgotten that one of the most interesting aspects of adolescence is an emerging moral sense of the world? What’s wrong? Who’s right? (And, please, as a parent, could I just remain low and out of the light?)
I’m reading, of all things, Wendell Berry, when I realize a grasshopper is nibbling my toe. It’s the very end of August, the sunflowers are opening, the basil is prolific, the beans have spread into a sculpture in the middle of my garden. I close the book and let the grasshopper gnaw.
We are dealing, then, with an absurdity that is not a quirk or an accident, but is fundamental to our character as people. The split between what we think and what we do is profound.
— Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture
The snow’s back, keeping the population in Hardwick predictably low.
This time of year is both ugly and tantalizing — the trash bleeding up, the tree buds fattening, robins chittering. And yet, the snow lies ubiquitous.
What else would we complain about? a friend asks at a middle school concert. We sit in the very back row — she and her husband, myself and my knitting I take out of my bag, but no further. Quickly, we’re laughing, giggling, silly, admiring our middle school daughters, intrigued at their age and maybe a little afraid — so new, so new; everything about adolescence shrieks of heading over the nest’s carefully mudded wall.
Often, I think of Robert Frost’s line: In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on. So it does. But, like anyone, I’d prefer life to go on better, rather than worse. So, perhaps, grousing about the weather is nothing.
Despite the snow, the lakes have opened up. The herons are back, their great wings cutting across the gray sky.
What I’m thinking of….
When I was a young woman, I immersed myself in experiences — live in a tipi, race an old Saab on an interstate, travel around the country sleeping in the back of a diesel Rabbit — but all as experience, without a context. Maybe that’s one of the main things I’ve gained as a parent — how to see the years-unfolding shape of our lives, the pattern of habits, the emotional tenor. Where are we weak? Where do we flourish?
Now, as my daughters — one exiting adolescence and the other entering — step into claiming their own lives, I watch the shape of the lives they’re creating, different than mine, and yet inseparable.
Tenderness does not choose its own uses.
It goes out to everything equally,
circling rabbit and hawk.
Look: in the iron bucket,
a single nail, a single ruby--
all the heavens and hells.
They rattle in the heart and make one sound.