Emerald Moment

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.” 

― Lulu Miller, Why Fish Don’t Exist

Bringing Back the Wonderful

May ends in a welcome rain, and June begins with a watercolor-esque sunrise over our wall of fading lilac blossoms.

This is the weekend when our vaccinated friends stood in our kitchen, talking and talking, and then walked slowly around our downstairs, asking, “What’s happened here in the last sixteen months?”

I showed the window trim I had painted a pale blue, called Innocence.

This was also the weekend I drove my friend and her daughter. Over years, this friend and I have drove endless hours together, and the car I’ve owned for over a year she’d hadn’t even sat in.

The afternoon was rainy. I drove along a dirt road, and the maple trees gleamed a brilliant green. We had been at a ceremony that was both happy and terribly sad, and I was cold to the bone. I turned on the seat warmers.

Seat warmers! my friend said. That’s wonderful.

We started laughing, my friend still hunched against the partly open window, as if that mattered now.

Bring on the wonderful, please.

(Highly recommended reading below…. :))

It was the dandelion principle! To some people a dandelion might look like a weed, but to others that same plant can be so much more. To an herbalist, it’s a medicine—a way of detoxifying the liver, clearing the skin, and strengthening the eyes. To a painter, it’s a pigment; to a hippie, a crown; a child, a wish. To a butterfly, it’s sustenance; to a bee, a mating bed; to an ant, one point in a vast olfactory atlas.

— Lulu Miller, Why Fish Don’t Exist

Relish This

Unexpectedly, I end up with a short period of time in Montpelier, and, rather than work in the library as I once did (for years), I open my laptop on a bench. I set up beside the city’s old train roundhouse, marked now by a sign but nearly hidden under foliage.

It’s fitting, in these days of change.

In our family life, my youngest daughter’s birthday approaches. Last night, I watched my daughter and her friends laughing in the flickering campfire. What a change from last year.

In the world-at-large, the world changes, too. Our town canceled the annual Memorial Day parade, but set off fireworks at the high school. This is now, I kept reminding myself as we watched the fireworks from our yard, not a memory, but now.

The temperature sank. We wondered about frost warnings. I remembered how Peak Oil was the buzz right after this daughter’s birth. But here we are, sixteen years later, young girls on the cusp of womanhood.

Sweet, I thought as I gathered the dinner’s dirty plates. An actual potluck again. Sweet, sweet sixteen.

Box of Darkness

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.

By an old temple

a broken clay kitchen pot

in a field of water parsley

— Buson

This.

A few years ago, when I desperate to sell my house and move away from my former husband, a woman in the state tax department shifted a line on a map. The property was enrolled in a tax-relief program for agricultural land, and I couldn’t sell the house without a paying a substantial fine for withdrawing the land.

She made a minor change on a map — something that might have seemed very small — but made all the difference in the world to me and my daughters. I never met her, but I called and thanked her.

On this terrible anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, if little else, after such a terrible year and more, in myriad ways we’ve seen that our actions affect others. We’re wound together. This can have terrible consequences, but it also holds a mighty power, too. The map can be changed.

There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.

— Malcolm X

Small Growth

Seed by seedling, I plant the garden, using my shovel and trowel, my two well-loved tools. The songbirds and the flickering pollinators keep me company in the garden.

In breaks, I read Jessica Goudeau’s After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America. This well-written book tells the story of two women, and their families, in places faraway from Vermont.

Meanwhile, in Vermont’s sweet spring, the state rushes along to vaccinate its population, taking vaccination buses on the road, meeting people at beaches and schools, offering free ice cream cones.

In the hardware store, I buy sunflower seeds. Standing outside, I chat with an acquaintance who removes her mask and tells me, You know, if you’re vaxxed, you really don’t need these anymore.

She looks at her mask and then puts it back on again. I feel naked, she says.

It’s 80 degrees. I take mine off and head home to plant those flowers.

But the greatest danger Obama identified was a ‘test of our common humanity — whether we give in to suspicion and fear and build walls, or whether we see ourselves in one another.’

— Jessica Goudeau