June 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
I disappeared for the last few weeks. It’s always been my favorite thing to do. Growing up, we’d have big cleaning days, maybe quarterly, that the whole family was supposed to take part in. Our house was big and incredibly messy. Five girls wear a lot of clothes(or try them on and discard them) and use a lot of dishes. No house needs six and a half bathrooms if you have to clean them yourself. The “laundry room” was really a closet, so the dirty clothes gushed out in waves across the hallway. We just waded through them. There was a useless hallway to the basement we called “the hall to nowhere.” It was littered with naked, haircut Barbies, toys, and anything Mom told us to put away. We lived out in the country (at least it used to be the country), so no one really stopped by. My mother gave up most of the time. I can’t imagine the energy it would have taken to get us all to pick up after ourselves. Instead, she took off in the car, usually to the grocery, the liquor store, or to pick up a kid, but mostly to escape the rural isolation that she hated, and I came to love.
The whole messy order of our house was turned upside down whenever my parents threw a party. I’m sure this is why having a party throws me into fits of anxiety to this day. Mom would shop for mini quiches, smoked oysters, and plenty of alcohol. The rest of us were on clean up duty. My dad’s impressive baritone voice was employed. It echoed through the house: all hands were supposed to be on deck; the walls shook like some unsteady ship. The months of neglect, the waves and waves of dirty clothes, all of it was overwhelming. We’d begin, like conscripted soldiers, wary of punishment for the least sign of defiance. After a while though, when my dad got tired of supervising, I’d slip off to my room with its apple green shag carpet, hide and read. My room, compared to the rest of the house, was an oasis of calm and order. I arranged my stuffed animals in rows on my yellow beanbag chair. I made my bed, just to see the geometry of the butterfly quilt spread smoothly across. This was cleaning, I reasoned. If they saw me go into my room, I’d slip into the hall to nowhere instead. It would sometimes take hours for anyone to notice I was missing. I was often assumed lost.
Recently, I threw a birthday party for my son, and I was predictably anxious. “Twelve year old boys don’t care if it’s messy,” Jeff says, but I care. I hear my dad’s voice calling us to order every time. There is no green-carpeted room to hide in, so I have to be in charge.
Two days later though, my boys and I ran away. Actually, we took off in boats, like some kind of lost boys, and paddled to an island, where we camped with friends for five days. There is very little on this island, just a bathhouse for day-trippers. We get as far away from that as we can. We catch some of what we eat. At night and early in the morning, the island appears to be ours. One morning, after a storm, I walk out to the water, look left and right: I am the only one on the bare beach. Not even a dolphin. There is a natural order to the water and the patterned sand, even to the glaring rays of the sun. I have slipped through a portal, like some hall to nowhere, an oasis where there is little laundry and plenty of time to read. I am assumed lost.
June 1, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m driving Jack Henry to school when he realizes that time goes by fast. “I feel like it’s just the beginning of the school year,” he says. “But not, too.” His first year of middle school is flat out gone.
“It only gets worse as you get older,” I say. There is silence in the back seat as he contemplates this. I glance in the rearview and catch the worry on his face. “It’s because you get to do so much,” I back pedal, but he is no dummy. He has crossed the line from time being limitless, something to ignore, to something that is measured and marked. I think this is the first check point between childhood and the long narrowing road to adulthood. He will be twelve in a few weeks, but he is still on the bright side of that number, and given his personality, he will probably always see a little more sunlight on the world than I do.
That’s something that still awes me about the whole parenting experiment. For those of us who have no idea how parenting is done, we have to make it up each day, and it all feels like a story. Crazy fact: kids believe what you say, positive or negative. Blows my mind every time. They believe what you say about how to spend time too. No matter where you go, there you are, my dad used to say, as a joke, but I believed it.
It is twelve days before Jack Henry turns twelve. We are on the water, in kayaks Jeff has spent hours searching for on Craigslist because time is money, after all. We are cutting across the glass of the lake, afternoon sun on our shoulders. It is maybe 8o degrees from where I sit. Sundown will be late; it’s near the solstice. A few families from around the world splash at the banks. Our friends Eric and Joaquin drift away in their canoe. My shoulders sink an inch or two. Jack Henry glides across the lake in a perfect, fast line. Point A to Point B. No time wasted. I have been in this day many times. I have no idea what time it is.
I have noticed lately that I have lost a year or two in the last few years after my parents’ deaths. No idea where they went. I just know I was not in this part of the world for a while, and now I am back. Sometimes that makes me feel behind, but I know the time is stored for days like this, when I can stretch time. Maybe that hinge from childhood to adulthood can flip back in the other direction, and the speed of the day is up to us.