Parenting

On a Philip Larkin jag, I think of his lines as I’ve driving with my 19-year-old up the switchbacks climbing the mountainside from the Connecticut River to Danville.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
 
We’ve been to see an old man — a doctor and a Zen Buddhist — whom I’ve convinced has answers, actual answers damn it, to the riddle of her and me and her father. My daughter hates the old man. Actually hates him.
 
It’s December and cold as hell. The sun sparks from ice at the edges of the river where the wide current is just beginning to freeze. The sun is nothing but cold comfort, so low in the sky warmth is merely a memory.
 
Driving, talking, we pass a particular bend in Route 2 where, decades ago and years before she was born, the Volkswagen bus my daughter’s father was driving broke down on the edge of the road. He had downshifted, stalled, and in that moment, the engine froze and refused to start. For years, the bus was parked behind his sister’s village house.
 
I stop in Danville for gas and wash the salt and road dust from the windshield, remembering the ugly tan color of that Volkswagen. From here, the road home is familiar all the way. I’m always writing about roads, always writing about journeys, sometimes just down to the post office to open the mailbox to see what’s there — or not. 
 
Staring at the keys in my mitten, I remind myself my daughter’s journey is her own. Or, back off. Then I hold out my hand to her and ask, You want to drive home?
 
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Family Holiday Pact

My brother calls, and I hear a terrific rattling. On inquiry, I learn he’s tipping up an empty cracker bag and eating the crumbs and salt at the bottom.

The rattling keeps up. I start laughing. He complains about the societal mandate of holiday cheer. My daughter, sitting on a yoga ball nearby, says to tell her uncle Yahtzee is part of our Christmas plans and a movie he introduced her to — I can’t bear to reveal the title — and my brother says that movie is fucking great. The movie is so bad I have a strange kind of affection for it.

Through the phone, I surmise he’s frying pork chops.

We come to our usual pact that, this time, no ER visits and no calls to the police. Mutually, we pledge to games (he and his girlfriend will trounce me in science trivia, I’ll crush them with literature), fresh air, and cooking. Mutually, we pledge not to holiday cheer but to fucking great.

State 14 ran my piece on house hunting. Eric Hodet’s stew on this site is particularly tempting….

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in…
“Days,” by Philip Larkin
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In a Funk….

On a Saturday afternoon of errands, I yield to my 13-year-old’s desire to drink a latte. There’s no way, she insists, looking down merrily at me, that coffee will stunt my growth.

Surrounded by the gaiety of Montpelier’s holiday shoppers, I overhear a man seated behind my daughter, speaking emphatically, gesturing wildly with his hands. Listening, too, my daughter leans across the table and whispers to me that the man is a member of the sovereign citizens. Both she and I know the phrases he uses, the code, the promise of unfettered freedom to do exactly as you want.

Through the window, I see people I know walking by, talking and laughing.

My daughter asks me why someone would join a cult. I answer I don’t know, but even as I say this, I know I’m half-lying, skimming over the surface of a black miasma rising around us, as I keep watching through the window families walking by, holding packages.

This afternoon — I can feel it deeply inside me, hard as obsidian, as we pass through the dim afternoon and home again — marks the unstoppable point for this girl of true teen — not the bratty, lip-curling caricature our society portrays as adolescence, but a relentless, adamant, justice-driven quest to know why the world is flipped upside-down.

“First Sight”

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

— Philip Larkin

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