God, Ghosts, Aliens

My daughters start a fire in the rock pit in our yard at the end of a sunny day, a day of hiking and laughter, of putting away a gorgeous onion harvest, of weeding and transplanting daisies from a friend, of painting the lower barn door blue (please, mom, why not just white?)

There’s no one else, no visitors, no company stopping by, just the three of us cooking outside sprawling on the grass as the dusk gradually filters down and pulls out the brilliance of pink zinnias, a tangle of nasturtiums, gold in a maple in the cemetery. We’ve nowhere else to go but into the house and sleep.

My older daughter shares a conversation she had with her coworkers that night, about the probably of God, of ghosts, of UFOs, and the girls dive into what they’ve read about Roswell.

Under my bare feet, the grass holds the day’s warm sunlight yet. Listening, I remember the barren patches in this grass when we moved in. The grass is lush now, like a well-tended cat’s fur.

My younger daughter, with a new kind of adolescent edginess, announces her own nihilism. I offer, But here’s the rub there: what about life? What about youand then I wise up and shut up. A few tendrils of mist settle into the valley below us. In the night, rain will move in, but for now, it’s just us and the sunlight, and all that evening ahead.

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Soccer Mom-ing

My daughter is now six years into soccer — a number that surprises me — as if, for me, each fall is a surprise. You’re playing soccer? How cool is that….

On a hot afternoon, I walk to the high school, in a rush from work, dust from the street blowing into my eyes. On these warm afternoons, there’s always pleasure at the chance to sit on the grass and simply spend an hour, talking with another parent about work and relationships, and the sometimes painful, often laughworthy moments in our parenting lives.

What’s odd is this: standing on the field, I study each player, figuring out which girl is mine. My own daughter. I blame this strange phenomenon on bad eyesight, until another mother confesses the same. The ponytail girls are growing up. I’m unable to recognize this metamorphosis — in my own daughter — but the girls are heading toward young womanhood, body and soul.

The way of the world, my soccer-mom friend says, and offers me some of her seltzer.

I am doing something I learned early to do, I am
paying attention to small beauties,
whatever I have-as if it were our duty
to find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.

— Sharon Olds

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Hardwick, Vermont, August 2019

Bloomsday & Father’s Day

These two are aptly paired up for me as I learned about Bloomsday — this Irish holiday celebrating James Joyce and his Ulysses — from my father. I was probably 4 and sitting on the living room floor with my sister, a predominant childhood place involving wooden blocks and tiny dolls. My father was listening to NPR and mentioned the day was Bloomsday. Such a pretty word, I remember thinking. Much later, in high school, my sister and I devoured Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist.

James Joyce, so infinitely complex and rich — which, perhaps, pairs up perfectly with parenthood. Happy Father’s Day!

Welcome, O life!

— James Joyce

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Photo by Molly B.

Joyful Interlude

A few years back, I told the man at the dump about an argument I’d had with my now ex. The old man always assessed what I had for garbage and recycling and then suggested what I should pay. Are you okay with that price? he’d always ask me. We had a sugaring and carpentry business then, and I often had strange assortments of things like moldy sap lines or boxes of broken syrup jars or a busted stroller.

The old man — who always spoke to my rowdy toddler daughter — told me to take her swimming for the day. That’s what you need to be doing today.

I think of him every time I go to the dump.

Before my second daughter was born, he suffered a terrible burn accident and died a prolonged and horrific death. I know this because I read his obituary in the newspaper one fall when I was crumpling up newsprint to build a fire in my wood stove. Those days when I pulled into the dump with my lively daughter and the million things I was doing then — syrup and mothering and trying to figure out my life — the day of his death seemed far away.

There’s a lesson in this I repeat to myself, that I must swallow down into the marrow of my bones. Seize joy — the unremarkable days of swimming that make up a life.

… We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left… very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins…. whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

— Mary Oliver

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