In the midday heat, my youngest drives us north, following vague directions, and we hike along two small ponds. The merest wind blows, ruffling sunlight over the water like sparkling scales.
Through the woods, we follow a trail up and then sit on a rocky ledge, admiring the view, drinking water and eating crackers and talking. The humidity reminds me of summers in southern New Hampshire, and how a summer seemed so long as a kid.
The sticky heat spreads out this day, elongates it. There’s plenty more ahead — my daughter heads into work and then goes swimming with a friend; I write on the back porch; my oldest returns from work and attends class on the upstairs porch; our cat catches his claw on the window screen. Rain falls.
But before all that, my youngest and I stop by a farmstead, and eat drippy and creamy-delicious vanilla ice cream cones. As we get into her car to leave, my daughter bites into a fresh peach. A friend pulls up beside us, and we talk for a bit. Our conversation winds quickly to work and misogyny. My friend apologies to my daughter for our conversation flying around.
My daughter asks politely, What? and pauses with that half-eaten peach in her hand.
My friend says, Oh, she’s in that lovely peach world.
We pulled into the DMV exactly on time for my daughter’s driving test exam. I sped while driving there — lousy parenting example — but at the very last moment before we left, it seemed we needed my daughter’s social security card for her license — as if I knew where that was. So we left without it.
Driving there, I remembered the card is in her baby book, in the blue hope chest.
Fortunately, the DMV staff was cheerful on this Tuesday afternoon after the long holiday weekend. The missing card was glossed over; I produced her birth certificate; and then they asked me if I had a utility bill or a piece of mail with me. Weirdly, I had brought the electric bill that arrived in the day’s mail, so I could read it over while she took her road test.
When we finally walked through the doors to wait outside, my daughter and I exhaled an unintentional collective sigh.
For these 15 minutes or so, I had absolutely nothing else to do at all, but sit there — something that seemed unimaginable to me for so many years as a mother. I had things, of course, I brought with me to do — reading that electric bill, for instance. But for these moments, I slipped off my sandals and dug my fingers into the warm clover.
In the sunlight, I soaked up my gratefulness to live in gorgeous Vermont, one of the sweet spots on the globe. Sixteen years ago, as I was driven away from the hospital after a surgeon’s scalpel made this daughter’s life possible, I saw corn nubs emerging through the black soil. Corn! What a miracle!
Sixteen years ago, I never would have predicted that one member of our family of four would have absconded for another life, that the life I have with my daughters would evolve into a version of Elizabeth McCracken’s line, It’s a happy life, but someone is missing.
So much of this past year I often imagined myself in a twisted story, a freak Camus novel, but now here I was on the flip side. Meanwhile, my daughter channeled her life into literally her own hands. Sixteen years ago, I was still foolish enough to believe that my children’s lives could be buffered, that they could live in a make-believe world of no bad things. I was still naive enough to believe that was desirable.
My daughter passed her exam. On our way out of the DMV this time, we didn’t sigh. In the sunlight, we spoke of little things — what to cook for dinner, tomorrow’s plans — the stuff of everyday life that makes a life together.
…we barely know the world around us, even the simplest things under our feet..we have been wrong before and we will be wrong again…the true path to progress is paved not with certainty but doubt, with being “open to revision.”
When I was a girl, someone gave me a Sweet 16 barbie doll. We didn’t have a lot of barbie dolls in our house, and these were prized possessions. For years, I thought of my sweet 16 birthday as some vaguely hallowed ground, where I might sprout to 5’9″, with long legs.
That didn’t happen. I never even hit 5′. Doubtlessly, I never grew into that Barbie-and-Ken life, because I’m not plastic. I was a girl and grew into a woman, with a life filled with all kinds of things.
My daughter is just days from her 16th birthday. I’ve been dwelling on this birthday for weeks. In this time, I keep thinking of poet Mary Oliver’s line about her “box of darkness,” and how that box became her fortuitous strength. So much of our culture still pushes our daughters to be that barbie doll, to pretend all is well with the world, to set a placid example of good behavior.
I see my daughter struggle with her desire to succeed at this sugary, glossy image, juxtaposed with her reality as girl edging toward woman.
We all have our unwarranted boxes of darkness. Use yours, I counsel.
This May has been exceptionally beautiful, with a profusion of blossoms and warmth. Living in a village now, we reap the benefits of lingering outdoors in the evenings, with no black flies gnawing our bare skin.
In this vaccinated world, a headiness rears, too. My daughters are suddenly gone, this way and that, one grown up, the other nearly so.
In the evening, I sit on the covered back porch, breathing in the scents of lilacs and rain.
The drama of spring unfolds around all of us, blessedly so, this year.
Midday Friday, I’m driving and listening to the Governor’s Friday press conference. For maybe 14 months now, the Governor and his cabinet have answered questions from the press all over Vermont every Tuesday and Friday — with no time limit.
I’m listening so intently, I make a wrong turn, back around, and drive on a dirt road along a river, looking for a bridge and the chance to cross. It’s May, and the roadside are strewn with brilliantly gold marsh marigolds.
I cross, then pull over and clamber down a steep embankment to the river. I’m late, already, to where I’m headed, but this May midday is so green and warm, so filled with sunlight and the promise of spring, that I feel out-of-time, as if this moment might linger forever.
I crouch near the current, broken in place by rocks that have been worn down by the ages of water and ice. I remember, so long ago, in March 2020, listening to one of the Governor’s first press conferences about the pandemic, standing in my living room with my youngest. She was delighted to be out of school for a bit; I kept wondering, what is happening?
Now, so many months later, I’ve heard hours of: look at the facts, admit what you don’t know, be decent to others, and act as a member of a society. As a writer, I interpret this as context matters. We live in the context.
We’re somewhere in May now, the ice cream cone season in Vermont. Eventually, I take off my sandals and walk barefoot up that riverbank, the day drenched in beauty.