The sunflowers Elder Girleen planted along our side fence have grown as high as an elephant’s eye.*
The fig that was a mere sprout two years ago now obscures one of the dining room windows, creating a curtain that only lets in filtered green vegetable light.
If the squirrels don’t best us, we will have a bumper crop of apples this year.**
All due to rain.
Rain. We’d forgotten all about it, the past few years were so parched. But now we have… not a surfeit, but enough. Enough to put on high alert my anxiety level about whether Younger Girleen’s fourth birthday party, the Happy Hour we were hosting, and basically any other social event for the past month or so would be rained out.
Yesterday, the forecast was for showers off and on all day, and because of that, the minute there was a boxy window of blue sky amongst the clouds, I hustled the Girleens outside. We took the camera with us; it took us half an hour to mosey a block.
It was 11 a.m. on a suddenly sunny summer day. The magnolia tree at the church a block away was doing its best to surpass the usual southern cliches of such specimens: creamy white blossoms upturned like open faces to the sudden sun; lemony perfume, faintly present.
We walked, we stooped, we looked, we poked and prodded. And through all that — we didn’t see a soul.
Yeah, there were cars driving by, but not very many, and as far as folks walking, working in their yards — nada. Zip. Zilch. There wasn’t even, this being the neighborhood it is, a single window open through which we could eavesdrop on the sorts of things I remember from summer mornings in my childhood: piano scales being practiced, radios tuned to talk stations, voices raised in argument or agreement.
It was as if the human inhabitants of this neighborhood had been… vaporized. Scooped up by a giant hand and set down elsewhere.
As of course they had. The giant’s hand is called Work, and because of that, our neighborhood, and yours and yours, are completely empty from 9 -5. They may look like Mayberry from 7 o’clock at night on (as ours does), when out come the dog walkers and the exercisers, but at 11 a.m. on a balmy summer afternoon, they’re Dead Zones.
Because once a neighborhood gentrifies, you can’t afford a house there unless you have two incomes. Because if mom and dad are both working, the kids have to be at what’s now called “camp” (it used to be called babysitting) from 9 -5. Because the engine that drives our economy is consumer spending, and you can’t go out spending unless you’re working, and if you’re out working, you’re not at home enjoying the blooms on the magnolia tree, big as baby heads, as creamy complected as Scarlett O’Hara.
I know, I know, that’s the way the world works, but as I was walking hand in hand with my offspring, Younger Girleen’s still babyish hand confidingly in mine, Elder Girleen’s brown paw in and out of mine as she gestured broadly, pirouetted — I couldn’t help but think how wrong this is.
Wrong??? You hypocrite!
For, the past few weeks, since school got out and staying home and being … mostly just…mom has been the name of the game for me, I’ve found myself front-and-center in an existential crisis. Who am I? What’s my point? What difference does it make if I am walking hand in hand with my daughters pointing out the hawk that just transversed the sky, when I could be out making money, pursuing fortune if not fame, and my kids could be in day camp like the rest of their peers, which they would probably like more, and which would certainly have them fighting less (since fighting is reserved for mom and home, not structured places like school and day camp).
A month ago, I shifted this blog to WordPress, and opened up a whole new pandora’s box of widgets I could entertain myself with.
My favorite has been the Category Cloud that sits to the right side of each post and so convincingly illustrates one’s preoccupations. It makes me think of a particular passage in Peter Pan,*** when Wendy’s mother is engaging in “tidying up her children’s minds”:
I don’t know whether you have ever seen a map of a person’s mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still.
Motherhood looms large in the map of my mind, I suppose, as does This Neighborhood, and my Category Cloud does an excellent job of showing this. Writing assumes more priority than….say, Politics, but Pubs, or Publications (mine), is writ in pretty small type. And for motherhood to take up such a lion’s share. There are many who would look at that and just say: lame.
But oh, whither the magnolias, their petals easily a duvet for the fairies, if work becomes the be all and the end all? Wither the confiding handclasp of my younger child?
Or maybe none of this really says much of anything profound about what I consider most important, and more about labels, which are only… labels, after all.
*if it’s a baby elephant; they’ve passed the Girleens and are taller than me now, though.
**Does synthetic wolf urine repel squirrels? Does it repel neighbors, passersby, spouses? Stay tuned for our next episode.
***Probably it makes me think of this passage because Elder Girleen has been listening to Peter Pan on tape.