Where I fall in
Tough summer, this one. There's a post in my drafts folder with just one line in it: Will I ever stop being embarrassed all the time? That's all I could manage to write. (Subject: July 3 meltdown. Venue: the steps of the Vermont State House. Maternal behavior: Suboptimal. Witnesses: Many. Oh, God, oh, God.)
A hundred times since May I've wanted to sit down and bang out a few paragraphs — theme: children, awfulness of, inability to parent, despair therefrom — but found it all too raw in the moment to share. Then by the time I felt good enough, I felt too much better, if that makes sense; I'd gained enough perspective that I was a little bit ashamed of what I'd wanted to write. Which makes for a crappy blog, perhaps, but I still have my self-respect.
Thank you. I'm here all week.
Tough summer, this one, but with some distance, good. In a few short months I've watched Charlie stretch so much, rough days notwithstanding, and although Ben is monstrous, he is also monstrously dear. We took a trip to California; we swam in the neighbor's pool; Charlie went to hip-hop ninja camp and I am not even making that up. Ben turned four; I took on more work; Paul built a laser in the basement. And last week we went to Tyler Place.
I fall in the lake a lot there, it seems. This time around it was during my first try at paddleboarding. Do you know about this sport? Let me tell you all about it, as I am now what you'd call an expert. See, you stand on a...well, a board, and you...paddle. Oh, there are unimportant refinements of technique, I suppose, like the ones that keep you from running aground on slippery rocks, wobbling and flailing like Wile E. goddamn Coyote, falling backward, hitting the slimy lakewater full-out on your back, and bumping your head in the process, but to the true aficionado, the attraction of the sport is in its essential simplicity. Not falling off is for amateurs. If you want to know the truth, I think it's a little showy.
Now, I know when I talk about Tyler Place I get a little culty, to the point of accosting strangers and telling them the Tylers love them and have a wonderful plan for their life. "Sell a kidney," I bark, "if that's what it'll take," and then I stare at their midsection pointedly. I admit I appear sort of wild-eyed to those who aren't ready to hear this transformative truth. But they said the same about Jesus, so, you know, I can take it. In fact, maybe we should kick it up a notch: "I hear you have a blog," said one fellow guest to me, "with millions of followers." "Millions," I said with a solemn nod. "I'm sort of like Mohammed."
Anyway, fine: read what I say with a skeptical eye if you're not the religious type. I will tell you, though, that this year something different happened. Where I'd always felt uncomfortable mixing with people I didn't know, this year I felt enveloped. I relaxed, and I felt welcomed. The adults-only meals that had been something of a trial — "So! Do you like...things? Why, that's a funny coincidence! I also like things myself!" — became something I looked forward to. There were too many people I wanted to sit with and talk to, an astonishing problem to have for an awkward introvert.
And it could be that I'm just getting older, getting tired of my own bullshit. (I've never thought finding it hard to talk to people is interesting or special; it makes me feel sad and stunted, and I'd love to overcome it.) But I also believe there's magic in this place, where I can be myself — my snarky, unstilted self — and feel confident I'll find friends. I can be the clumsiest runner in a session of grown-up lawn games, my goose ducked six ways from Sunday, and still be admired for my shoes.
("They're built for speed," I told the group, then grudgingly added, "...badly.") I can squawk show tunes off-key and loudly, not caring if I'm heard, happy just to sing. I can fall in the lake, come up laughing, and know someone's laughing with me, the friends who'd gone along with me, the friends who remained ostentatiously vertical, but were kind enough not to angle away from my blue-green algae reek. (The laughing at came later, after cocktails. It's that kind of place.)
I don't know how to say it beyond calling it belonging. My kids feel it, too, I know; either my year of patient brainwashing bore fruit — "You looooved going to your group, Ben. Right?! No, darling, you mean LOVED." — or Ben was just ready to embrace it this time, scampering off without a backward look to join the other four-year-olds. And Charlie was utterly at ease among kids he'd never met; if you'd ever seen him hang uncomfortably back even with children he knows, the difference would knock you out.
It helped, I'm sure, that Patrick was there, whom Charlie worships slavishly. A highlight for him was their air hockey game, played in the pre-teens' game space. Their idea to set up an obstacle course on the table using Lego baseplates had the inevitable and unfortunate consequence of jamming the table's slots. Charlie had it all figured out, though, seeing the latch on the side of the table that opened it for maintenance. "Just get a paper clip," he said oh-so-suavely. "I know how to pick locks."
For his part, Ben loved Caroline, and magnanimously acknowledged Edward's existence. Our two families shared a duplex cottage, so occasionally we'd open the doors and let the kids commingle. I temporarily quashed Ben's idea for a sleepover in our half by counting the beds in the kids' room, but he's a can-do problem-solver like his brother and quickly lit on the answer: "Edward and Caroline can sleep between you and Dad!" (Edward hogs the blankets, but Caroline likes to spoon.)
The break was, as always, exactly what we needed. For a whole week, it helped me see my kids in the best possible light — occupied, stretching themselves [.MOV], tired, happy. It let me be a grownup, insofar as I ever am, appreciated independently. It gave me space to hold hands with my husband, have lunch with my mother, and snooze on a chaise longue in perfect peace. It set me up to see the rest of the summer in a slightly more positive light. And if you don't know what a gift that all is, well, you don't deserve those kidneys.