Right after we married — literally a couple of days later — my husband & I left for his new job. In Algiers. Or Alger, as the French call it. My mother-in-law bore this with the fortitude of prairie pioneers, although she did take us to see her cousin, who had lived in North Africa. Well, her cousin remarked, it’s not as bad as some places. They won’t eat you in Algeria. Mom didn’t look that reassured. This all comes to mind because my younger son is off, next month. Committed to places w/ names like Mumbai, Goa. Hanoi and Chieng Mai. Some names I recognised, although I’ve visited none myself. Others (I’m talking to you, Goa) I had to look up. I’m grateful to all my friends who thought Goa was in China. When our sons left for Portland, we were happy for them. These days Oklahoma is not a good place for young men wanting to start careers. There aren’t many jobs, unless you’re in very specific industries. Musicians, computer engineers, and teachers need not apply. A colleague left his job teaching in June. He’s accepted a job in Columbia, MO because that’s what he could find. This a man with an established teaching resumé, not a recent grad. So we understood completely, and knew we’d be using our Southwest miles to go to Portland.
But going around the world, w/ only a backpack and a daypack? Wow. That’s mother-terrifying. Yes, he’s a grown man. Yes, he’s responsible, thoughtful, and planning well. And yes, I trust his judgment. I do NOT trust the folks he may encounter. And then I remember — really revisit — the Hotel Djemila Palace, where we lived for several months when we first arrived in Alger. How the maître d’ watched over me, scolding me when I didn’t empty my plate, functioning as an odd (French-speaking) uncle. How the ladies who ran the laundry (the only one in the country, they told me with pride) giggled when I said I couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to do our laundry; that’s what wives were for, right? How I made friends in the apartment house we moved into eventually — dear Saliha w/ her 10 living children and 14 pregnancies. Almost 1/2 my husband’s age today…
Noah will make friends too, I understand. But like Mom, what I see instead of the friends he will make, and the wondrous experiences and memories he’ll create, is the distance between Oklahoma and Sweden. Oklahoma and Mumbai. Oklahoma and Việt Nam and Oklahoma and Thailand and Oklahoma and Goa… All so very far away. Beginner’s heart is harder sometimes than others. To let go of our fears for ourselves is difficult enough. But to open our hearts like windows, and let our love fly out with even adult children, is harder still. My sons sometimes read my blog, so I won’t get mushy. I will miss him terribly, but technology makes it a bit easier: there’s Skype, of course. We already FaceTime my grandson, son, & DIL weekly. But it’s not the same as going to tea together just to catch up, as we did yesterday. It’s not the same as a weekend call. He won’t even have a cell phone (unheard of these days!). And he will be gone for many months — perhaps well over a year. The point to this for my beginner’s heart is not to cling, I know. To live in this perfect weekend, when even the Virginia weather has cooperated to give us grilling weather. Deck weather, instead of the 98 degrees it will be in Tulsa. We’re off to lunch momentarily. Thai food, which is comfort food for me. I need it.
This was my morning. My elder son & I wrangled over each individual magnolia branch, pretty much. See, I’m a tree person, and Nathan is a landscape person. He wants a useful and beautiful landscape for his home. I want trees treated like people, allowed to grow (with help — AKA judicious pruning) to their best selves.
Sometimes, these alternate realities are not easy to reconcile.
Luckily, my wonderful DIL is a good mediator, as are my husband and younger son. And my grandson is a marvelous distraction.
And even though it looks like chaos, w/ all the branches strewn beneath, I know that the magnolia is the best compromise possible — more branches left lower (and fuller) than Nathan probably anticipated, but fewer than I would have done for my own tree.
Parenting is like this. You’re always juggling freedom w/ knowledge. In this case, I have a LOT of tree knowledge, hard-won over decades of crappy yards, and reading up on the various ecologies where we’ve lived. The desert (henna and Natal plum and hibiscus), the tropics (plumeria and bougainvillea), the prairie (dogwood and redbud and pecan).
But my son isn’t, although he’s quite knowledgeable in his own right. And like most of our children, his objectives are different than mine. For me, aesthetics is a huge deal. For him, the man who began his college career as an engineer, functionality is more critical. He is his father’s son: he want head room for a mower. Me? I’d push the mower forward under the tree line.
But as you can see, together with my daughter-in-law, husband, and younger son, the two trees turned out well. And in the long-term? They’ll flourish. Kind of like my sons: not what I thought they’d be (I never planned for them to live so far away!), but incredibly lovely.
This seems an appropriate reflection, given that this is the last holiday we’ll all share for quite a while. My younger son is readying for an around-the-world trip, one he anticipates will take at least a year or more. Which means this Fourth of July holiday is all the more precious. And the hot, sweaty work of picking up branches, and straining against lopper just sliiiiightly too small for the branch that needs cutting less a pain than a communal project.
This isn’t work I like to do at home. But here, w/ family members on the deck, taking turns holding & feeding the grandson, it’s heaven. Or at least a Virginia equivalent. Amazing what love can do to sweeten hard work.
I took my grandson swimming today. To a tiny inflatable pool off the side of the deck at the ‘kids’ house. We sat in the 85 degree air, in tepid water, liberally coated w/ SPF 50, and splashed. And splashed. And splashed again, with great enthusiasm.
Then we filled a Solo cup with a pink floaty sponge, and held our tongues out to be shot with a water gun. Not to mention throwing a filthy yellow tennis ball that Silas-the-wonder-dog kept dropping in the water for fetch.
It was its own form of Nirvana — the everyday miracle of a happy life.
My grandson played at swimming — paddling as he lay across my outstretched legs, putting his head in the water to drink (don’t tell my son — I would NEVER have let my sons do that, but this is my grandson!). I gently poured water over him, and he laughed happily.
What is about swimming with little fishes? How is it that my world simplifies, and reduces in size like cropping a picture back to only the essential image?
Much of it is, of course, the way a 13-month-old little fish reminds me of how magic a summer-day-add-water is. You don’t even need much water: enough to pour from a cup, enough to cool off when the sun goes behind a cloud.
Just an ordinary day, with a little extra magic: sunlight and water. And a one-year-old who hasn’t yet forgotten how special those are.
We’re on a three-day road trip to Virginia, from Oklahoma (burglars beware: my sister and her two attack hounds are house-sitting!). Which means crossing both Arkansas, and Tennessee. Which means…crossing the Mississippi River!
I adore the Mississippi River — the folk lore, the history, the stories. Mark Twain. Some day, when I grow up ( ), I’ll be rich enough to go on a riverboat ride, from the New Orleans delta north as far as I can ride.
In the meantime, I’m settling for quick snapshots from a car window, as we drive over the bridge that’s the boundary between Arkansas and Tennessee.
Road trips are wonderful — even when it pours (it has, for hours, in vertical BUCKETS). Even when much of yesterday’s trip was spent at a standstill, in single lane traffic on a four-lane highway. Even when you’re tired, and you miss the exit for the bathroom…
They’re still magic. Because there’s this huge green wilderness that’s America, and you’re travelling in this tiny motorised vehicle (compared to the trucks on I40, even a Prius wagon is tiny!). No, it’s not my grandmother’s covered wagon from Kentucky. But it’s all part of that vast American myth, sometimes dark and horrible (slave ships), sometimes adventure on steroids (families in covered wagons, in the 19th century).
Not to mention that there’s that all too rare treasure: time. Time to talk, time to relax, time to figure out the precise image that should live in a tanka you add to a growing collection of road trip poetry.
Yes, this is a trip to see family over the 4th of July, as families all over America are gathering to celebrate. And I love that we’re doing it via a piece of American mythology: the road trip.