December 2014


It occurs to me as I wake up slowly this Monday morning in Northampton, where I’ve woken up nearly every other long weekend for over a year and a half, that I never write about Richard’s place as my home. From day one I felt welcome here, could imagine my life going forward with this place and this man in it. Still, when I write, it’s hardly ever here. Even when I write from Somerville, it’s often when I’m alone that I find time to write.

Here we live as a couple. Only occasionally are my kids here. I think this morning as the light comes into the sky, that this is shameful, that I have a life I enjoy apart from my kids, when mothering is meant to be full time.

This morning, I make tea in Richard’s Russell Wright tea pot. I recognized the Russell Wright from a collection our early tenant kept in the china cabinet now full of day care puzzles. I love the clean and modern lines, even as I love the flowery traditional tea pot on the counter in my home, once given to my grandmother by my sister and me, chosen from the local department store, now with a broken handle on the cover, fragile and being replaced by my daughter, who texted me photos of tea pots yesterday as she roamed the Cambridge Antique Market and I visited with Richard’s mom in Connecticut, all of us living our intergenerational, interconnected lives as best we can. For the first time she called Richard when texting and calling me didn’t work, and later when I joined Richard’s mom for coffee and cake, Richard’s mom wondered who had called, the interweaving continued, my children entering Richard’s mother’s world, his life becoming part of ours.

It happens slowly for us, the mixing and the mingling. It’s not a proposal and a sharing of homes and bank accounts kind of thing. I feel unmoored is what I said at bedtime, like I’ve cut loose from the life I used to know and am floating free, untethered from the expectations I used to hold of how life might work out to be.

On Saturday morning I wondered how the holiday and vacation weeks would work. By Saturday midday plans had begun to take shape. Sunday afternoon things developed further. If all goes as expected, I’ll have a holiday and birthday dinner with all my kids, their dad and his wife on Sunday, a Hannukah celebration at Richard’s daughter and son in law’s home with a group they’ve tentatively defined as Framily, possibly including my boys, Christmas Eve as yet to be defined, hopefully with Richard and my boys, Christmas with Richard and my boys and my sister and her family, if we can all make that work.

The second week of school vacation I am scheduled to be kid free, something I accept with some ambivalence. I imagine other mothers having nearly two weeks of time off with their kids, some dreading that, some taking it in with relish. This year my daughter will be in Australia for two and a half weeks including the vacation, the holidays, and her birthday. My older son is home from college for over a month, and the first week was at my home. After nearly a year of hardly seeing him, waking up and going to bed under one roof, all three kids and me, some of it with Richard, some of it even with my mom and her guy Paul and my brother and his son, felt rich in the life of this single mom with shared custody and extended family far away.

It’s a lot of ways to define and feel my way through home. I’m missing the Quakers, who give me a place outside myself. I’m missing Ashfield, where I haven’t been since August. I’m missing friends, who I see rarely outside of those at work. I’m even missing quiet for myself, a walk, some yoga, time to write or think or read.

Maybe it’s like that for everyone. We all have lives we thought we’d live and didn’t, things we’d like to do we don’t. For me, that part of being can feel stronger than I expect it does for most, but that may not be true. I’m working on just being, on avoiding what Wendell Berry so aptly named as “forethought of grief”,  a condition I fall into all too easily early in the morning or in the middle of the night when I think of holidays or global warming or roof leaks and repairs, basement floods, home. Attempts to sort it out can feel overwhelming. Today’s challenges range from sorting out a day care opening and missing snow pants and a sub, all from off site, to getting a letter notarized for my daughter’s trip to Australia, even though I don’t have an account at a local bank, to making holiday treats from supplies I brought from my Somerville kitchen, collected around Richard’s kitchen, and stores in Northampton and Connecticut this weekend, and will distribute to the folks in my life I want to know that I remember on the holidays, to paying bills, deciding on a roofer, sorting out the finances, and if all goes well, shopping for the last few gifts, maybe mailing a package to my mom, who isn’t likely to travel this way this year and for the first time in many years will be apart from her children and grandchildren for the holidays. Wish me luck. The tea tastes just the same out of the Russell Wright as it does out of Grandma’s teapot, Yorkshire Gold in both homes, made with half a teaspoon of sugar in both places, lactaid milk at Richard’s, one percent at mine. That, at least, is simple, as is love, if we let it be, which is really what it’s all about.

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This morning is quiet. Ben is back from school, arrived last night past ten, to clean out the fridge and laugh and talk with us before we all fell sound asleep. I moved the van out of the driveway where he parked it, full up in back with the fancy bike his dad gave him last Christmas, otherwise, tidy as can be, so the other two could drive the car to school. Today I’ll visit my friend from high school, a charter school teacher in town for a national conference of Expeditionary Learning. I’ll walk and T it, or go along with Richard in his old car, 1998 Accord Coupe with leather seats and a moon roof our fancy mobile, bought from his mom when she bought her new civic several years ago, once upon a time belonging to his beloved dad, now gone. The cars and vans go down through the family that way sometimes. For the moment we have three here, after several weeks of barely one, since Jonah was in the crash that totaled his dad’s and mine was the one the kids needed every day, and took to their dad’s the weeks they were there. We got over that hump. This week their dad’s new car arrives, last night Ben came home with the van, all weekend Richard’s been here with his car. Walking has hardly been on my mind. And last week, to no one’s great pleasure, I drove my mom’s car, brought to MGH by my sister from the Cape where my mom was visiting before Thanksgiving, before she went to the ER last Saturday and was admitted, week of long days and long nights, visiting the hospital, driving back and forth between Somerville and Northampton, Somerville and Boston, working the usual shifts, including one on my own when Jen needed to stay home with her sick son.

And this weekend there was another car to move around. My brother and his son arrived Friday very late, left Sunday midday, visited and fixed things in between. My nephew and I had fun with old machines. We repaired a broken ribbon on the eighty year old adding machine in the dining room my nephew loved, replaced the ribbon on my son’s old manual typewriter. As I was putting store bought cinnamon buns in the oven for Sunday brunch, my nephew said, “I know what you can do. You can fix things and you can bake. You could fix a toilet, too.”

He’s right. I can fix things and I can bake. Somehow the two feel linked. All weekend long I cooked. Soup for Mom’s return from the hospital and her boyfriend Paul’s arrival. Pasta and meat sauce and salad Friday night for the kids’ return from their dad’s, Richard’s arrival from Northampton and dinner with Mom and Paul. Eggs and tortillas for Dave for Saturday second breakfast. Mac and Cheese and roast carrots for Saturday lunch for whenever folks got hungry, and beyond. Roast chicken and fingerling potatoes and spinach salad with egg and sweet potato and candied pecans and stilton and maple dressing for dinner with the brother and the nephew and my kids and Richard. Frittata and cinnamon buns for Sunday brunch to send my brother and nephew off, to bring us all together one last time before he was off to my sister’s on the Cape. Tortellini soup at my daughter’s request for Sunday dinner and to welcome Ben home at 10.

Today I’m not cooking. Leftover night has been pronounced, though by the time Ben get’s through the fridge it may be rice and beans for dinner.

Charles and I fixed the machines, then last night while I cooked and put away the shop, my daughter mended and hand washed her clothes, telling me she could do it, but I would be here guide. She mended skirts, leggings, dresses, washed sweaters and a sundress. It made me proud, inspired me to sort and tidy and mend the sewing box I’d recently moved upstairs, broken latch and wood repaired easily with the super glue and screwdriver I found in my newly organized hall closet.

My brother’s Christmas gift to me is a socket wrench set. The one our good friend Dave gave me and Eric for our wedding went to his house with the divorce. Since then I’ve done without. A woman without a socket wrench set all these five years. Who knew I could get along under such deprivations:)? But now I’m set. The snowblower is locked securely under the porch in anticipation of snow, thanks to Richard and Isabel’s U-shaped bike lock and some ingenuity and my brother and Richard’s persistence in rehanging the other porch door in the cold, so the wagon and stroller can stay there when the frost heaves up the brick walk. There’s a shovel on the porch and not much junk. The back porch pre-winter clear out is on my list for the day. Writing here is not, but I’m doing it anyway. Been too long. Been a hard fall, a hard few weeks, and yet not. Things are getting repaired and made and enjoyed, even as we speak.

My nephew’s lego toilet is in pieces in the lego bin my son brought upstairs. The house with the pyramid roof my son made on the rug beside my nephew is nearby. The legos are still in the living room, between the old couch and the new one, beside the stack of New York Times Richard bought and we read yesterday and the day before, under blankets I brought up from the day care where my brother and nephew slept Friday night. It was a cozy Sunday, and full, just the sort of day to start the week right.