I’ve reached the point in my life where suddenly my parents are old and my daughters are fleeing childhood. Technically, this is the Empty Nest realm, although I dislike that phrase. I’m not heading anywhere. Do the cats count for nothing?
A different woman might be plotting a sewing room. Instead, I’m plotting my own Huck Finn plans, and I’ll pack my knitting needles, thank you very much.
While my youngest is still here, and I’m still reveling in the teen world (which is, honestly, utterly fascinating), I sense more and more how I saddle two generations.
So I read poet Diana Whitney’s recent IG post about intergenerational trauma and female bodies with keen interest today. I followed by reading Whitney’s essay in Longreads. You should read it, too. We’d all be healthier, perhaps, if we spoke a little more about these hard things. And that, today, is as far as I’ll write about that.
When my daughter and I return from a walk tonight, we stand for a moment outside our house in the dark. The moon is a bit of a creamy curl over our roof. Mighty Orion stands at his guard in the constellations. Whoever dug this house’s foundation in the sandy soil, carefully set the fieldstones, and built this home has long since passed out of this world. People have lived and fought and loved and died in this house. It’s March and Mud Season hovers over us, freezing, thawing, freezing, and eventually the thaw will win out for the summer. Upstairs, my youngest daughter puts her face to a window. We go in, leaving the stars and the night to their own particular magic.
“It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.”
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.
Friday morning, I’m washing the breakfast dishes when warm liquid runs over my bare toes. For the briefest moment, I think I’m standing in the edge of a warm ocean, and then I realize my kitchen sink drain has broken apart. Gallons of dishwater flow over the floor.
I’ve cobbled the drain together before, but this time, I’ll actually need to fix it.
My daughter picks up a worried cat and assures him that, indeed, the drain will be fixed.
Midday, when I’ve finished work at my desk, I drive to the hardware store with a section of PVC. I’ve forgotten a mask; those cloths are at home, drying on the clothesline. I sigh, irritated. I have a six other things I want to do, besides drive around.
But the thing is, I see a huge sign outside the store: masks are no longer required for the fully vaccinated. For the first time in however long, I walk into a store without a mask.
This has been a week of chaos. We all have these days or weeks, or maybe even decades. Who doesn’t? We’re humans, who live in a material world that’s constantly shifting (even if only incrementally) from well-put-together to chaos. The flip side, I suppose, is that sometimes we manage to arrange chaos back to order.
As in my kitchen sink: after dinner, I wash the dishes, and no flood alarms the cats.
By evening, I haven’t bought to tickets from Vermont to New Mexico to visit my parents, as I’m unable to surmount the chaos of the airline world. I haven’t eradicated my fears about my 16-year-old, driving around, heading into the adult world in what’s practically a heartbeat. The woodchucks are still doggedly determined to rise up around my gardening realm.
From the tangle of rosebushes someone planted long ago, I clip a single blossom. A thorn pricks my thumb, and a thin line of blood wells up. I touch the blossom to my blood and wipe my thumb clean.
On these warm spring evenings, my daughters and I often walk through the town forest and circle around back to town along Bridgeman Hill Road. The woods are the solace of living in town, sprinkled now with spring beauties and red trilliums and gold trout lilies.
At the high school, we watch a young teen drive a pickup around the parking lot with his father, the truck lurching into gear as the teen finds that sweet spot between clutch and gas. As the dusk drifts down, watching this kid seems almost wildly hopeful as he turns and loops back again around that long parking lot.
This whole walk I’d been trailing my daughters, listening to the evening birdsong in the treetops, for some reason remembering the man who coached basketball for many years at the high school. He’d dug a basement for my former husband and me, many years, when we bought that first eight acres. I’d run into him a few years ago when we were both pumping gas. As the world goes in little towns, we’d each heard small strands of gossip about each other, and we caught up about what we were each doing for work.
Then I turned the key to my car and asked if he would listen to a grinding sound in my car’s engine.
Water pump, he said, and then asked if I needed help fixing it.
I thanked him and said no, I was fine. He went into his day, and I into mine. On my way to work that morning, the water pump failed.
The teen turns on the headlights. Back at my car, my daughter gets in the driver’s seat, ready to drive — not home, but somewhere, anywhere.
I make her wait, though; I don’t get in the car. I stand there for a moment longer, the night sprinkling down, the peepers singing, and that boy making a long slow turn in the parking lot. Around us, the ineffable mystery of the world widens around those two spots of light.
So much for those days jammed into town halls and school gymnasiums, debating school consolidations or upping appropriations to local food shelves. So much for buying a bowl of chili for lunch and supporting the local PTO. Stand up and vote by voice has been replaced this year by the ubiquitous paper ballot all over the state.
All night, the wind blows — March’s mighty lion. I wake thinking of the old farmhouse and broken down barn I visited the day before. Someone I knew years ago has bought the property and intends to build a new house. The farmhouse lies along a mountain ridge, with a view into a valley. Far up the valley, wind towers sparkled in the sunlight.
There’s no one around at this house, just the sun and myself, snowbanks sculpted by the wind far higher than my head. I might as well be on the edge of the world. I walk back up that long driveway, the snow drifted nearly to my knees. At the crest, I turn again and look back, curious to see next summer how this property will return to life.