Family.

My friend and I spent many hours drinking coffee and watching our (then) little kids play at the edge of Caspian Lake, on colder summer days moving our coffee to the front seat of the car while my daughter’s hair blew over her eyes and lips in the wind. Those little kids are all grown up now, busily figuring out their own lives.

This Saturday, while we’re swimming, my daughters have dressed in heels and dresses and gone to a wedding. Late that night, after a long drive, they return with stories not about the dress or the Inn or the cake, but with stories of people and families and whose lives have gone awry and who is kind. An aunt and uncle of the bride have traded in family participation for a cult. Another family member is wandering out west, immersed in her own story, having cut herself free from any family obligation.

In the midst of this are the young adults, all working hard, scrambling in the severe shortage of housing in Vermont, trading advice about colleges and education. Brushing our teeth, we laugh and laugh. My daughters are no longer young in the way of using sand toys at the beach, but very young at heart, ready to make the world new in their own lives and hearts.

Family, we agree, using this word as both a noun and a verb.

Midsummer. Rain. Snails in the cabbage. Blooming calendula. I wouldn’t trade these obligations for the world.

“I am so far from being a pessimist…on the contrary, in spite of my scars, I am tickled to death at life.” 

― Eugene O’Neill

Pastimes

I wake before dawn thinking of shuffleboard and listen to the rain pattering.

It’s Wednesday, and my high school daughter is home today. With high school in session two days a week, she’s patched together a strange schedule. Yesterday, she walked to school around ten (skipping the idiocy of study hall in the gym), had algebra and driver’s ed, and spent the afternoon playing soccer.

I lie in the dark, grateful beyond grateful for soccer.

When her father and I divorced, I kept thinking, my god, we need to do better for this girl. So it goes with school this year. Really? I keep thinking. Is this the best I can do?

I remind myself, again, that I’m part of the problem. At 15, she’s stepped into a kind of college schedule, coming and going, utterly responsible for her own work, burrowed on the couch with her school-issued Chrome book, determined.

The truth is, the best has long since slipped out of vision. Hence, perhaps, the appeal of a shipboard game, hours of leisurely chat, surrounded by the glittering sea.

I’m not about to get that shuffleboard option. I rise and feed the hungry cats, brew coffee and open my laptop.

Rain falls steadily — a welcome sound. The chaos of the world is clamoring loudly. Meanwhile, my daughter leans into her work. I brew more coffee. Day by day — the only way to parent.

Homework

In the evening, with the windows open to the crickets’ songs, my daughters sit on the couch, doing homework together, while I read about the 1918 pandemic and knit.

Half-listening, I hear my daughters figure out the answer to a chemistry question, googling definitions. Decades beyond my own high school science classes, I’m no good here. Inevitably, these discussions always remind me of my adolescent years — well before google — when my father was the in-house reference for anything from trigonometry to weird geography questions.

Not so, in this house. I advise the girls to call my brother.

But as I listen, I realize they’re piecing through an interesting problem about change on the molecular level, and my youngest notes that change is the one constant.

It’s a particularly poignant observation for a 15-year-old, and I lay down my knitting and take a walk in the darkness around our house.

This week — heck, these months — seem filled with stories of people around me whose lives are in upheaval. These are all people I know and care about, in varying degrees. I keep thinking how, on a political level, so much misery is caused by exploiting the weakness of others. So, too, in our own personal levels, where so much of our energy often jockeys for a position of strength, betraying a marriage, a confidence, a professional relationship.

Meanwhile, change is the one constant. Surely, if nothing else, that could be a theme for 2020.

And yet, perhaps, it’s not.

In the darkness, I stand near the woodpile, breathing in the scent of sap and fresh wood, of damp soil turned up. Our cat sits on the windowsill, peering out at me. Overhead, the Milky Way spreads across the sky. My daughters’ voices drift through the screen, figuring out their answers, laughing a little — for the moment — happy.

More Midsummer, Memories

In the crimson-hot July sultriness downtown yesterday, standing on a sidewalk, I flashbacked to what my parents used to call with enthusiasm “being on the road.” For years, we trekked from New Hampshire to humid Ohio to visit the anticipated happiness of cousins, and often far across the Mississippi, spending weeks in nylon tents and cooking canned corn over campfires.

I picked up that thread through much of my adulthood, crossing over from the backseat to the steering wheel. As a kid, of course, meshed in with my siblings, the primary concerns revolved around swimming possibilities and how good a campsite we were going to score.

The landscape from the driver’s seat looks mighty different. Navigation ranks right at the top of my list, something I never would have considered as a kid. Life on the road, I believed, would always get us from here to there. But maybe there’s a real element of truth there, too.

Our road has landed us here, on a dead end street, in a house whose property is bounded by lilacs on two sides. Last night, into dusk, I pulled out the deep weeds along these bushes, listening to the girls laughing about a game they had made up on the trampoline with four deflating soccer balls. We’ve put away the atlas for now, and traded in the scent of fresh asphalt for black soil, damp with early falling dew.

stream in summertime—
this joy of wading across
with sandals in hand

– Buson

 

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Searching by Starlight

Three summers ago, we returned from a three days long Amtrak ride – Lamy, New Mexico to Albany, New York, and then a three-hour drive home – and I ran into the garden through the car headlights, before coming into the house. The hydrangea had spread magnificently; the tomatoes lay tucked in their leaves, heavy, ripe.

We had been gone for most of the summer, nearly six weeks, first to stay with my sister who was not well that summer, and then on the only trip I’ve taken with both my daughters to the southwest, where I was born. Under intense pressure that summer, by our return of the four of us, it was clear our marriage was fissured.

Nearly three years later, I was in the garden by starlight last night, the fireflies flickering so high in the surrounding treetops they merged with the constellations. Even in the dark, my feet know this path intimately.

After midnight, I finished Alice Hendan-Zuckermayer’s book, about the willing and unwilling moves of her family, driven by economics, which I know so well, and by a world at war, which I have been so fortunately spared. Why read anyway? You might as well ask why think? why desire? why LIVE? In my midnight garden, with the bursts of dandelions already going to seed, it was me and Alice. She ended her book with these lines from Ecclesiastes:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…. a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get and a time lose, a time to keep…

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